Critical Perspectives on Leadership: The Language of Corporate Power, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Critical Perspectives on Leadership

The Language of Corporate Power, 1st Edition

By Mark Learmonth, Kevin Morrell


192 pages

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Paperback: 9781138093997
pub: 2019-05-28
Available for pre-order
Hardback: 9781138093980
pub: 2019-05-28
Available for pre-order

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Within contemporary culture, ‘leadership’ is seen in ways that appeal to celebrated societal values and norms. As a result, it is becoming difficult to use the language of leadership without at the same time assuming its essentially positive, intrinsically affirmative nature. Within organizations, routinely referring to bosses as ‘leaders’ has, therefore, become both a symptom and a cause of a deep, largely unexamined new conceptual architecture. This architecture underpins how we think about authority and power at work. Capitalism, and its turbo-charged offspring neo-liberalism, have effectively captured ‘leader’ and ‘leadership’ to serve their own purposes. In other words, organizational leadership today is so often a particular kind of insidious conservativism dressed up in radical adjectives.

This book makes visible the work that the language of leadership does in perpetuating fictions that are useful for bosses of work organizations. We do this so that we – and anyone who shares similar discomforts – can make a start in unravelling the fiction. We contend that even if our views are contrary to the vast and powerful leadership industry our basic arguments rest on things that are plain and evident for all to see.

Critical Perspectives on Leadership: The Language of Corporate Power will be key reading for students, academics and practitioners in the disciplines of Leadership, Organizational studies, Critical Management Studies, Sociology and the related disciplines.


"Finally! While Learmonth and Morrell aren’t the first academics to sound the alarm regarding the prostitution of the terms "leader" and "leadership," they have done the most thorough — and convincing — job to date. It’s not just a semantic issue, either. As the authors make clear, contemporary use of the labels goes well beyond self-congratulation; the more insidious effect is that they paper over the structural unfairness at the heart of most employment arrangements today. And while it seems unlikely we’ll convince all these leaders to stop calling themselves such, there might be some hope that we can ultimately stop ratifying the bastardization of the term in the academy itself. But maybe not. After all, that would take leadership. Congrats to these two for trying anyway." —Duff McDonald, author of The Golden Passport

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Figures



  1. Introducing the Language of Leadership
  2. Part I

    Against ‘Leadership’

  3. Using the Language of Leadership
  4. Measuring the Language of Leadership
  5. Polishing our Chains
  6. Building Santa’s Workshop
  7. Part II

    ‘Leadership’ as Rhetoric

  8. Labels Matter
  9. Performing Leadership
  10. Part III

    The Seductions of ‘Leadership’

  11. The Attractions of Being (Called) a ‘Leader’
  12. A Boost to the Executive Ego
  13. Part IV


  14. What is to be Done?
  15. Concluding Thoughts: Leadership as a Fig Leaf?
  16. Further Reading



About the Authors

Mark Learmonth is Professor of Organization Studies at Durham University, UK. He researches the personal consequences of work.

Kevin Morrell is an Associate Dean at Durham University, UK. He researches how organizations and individuals contribute to the public good.

About the Series

Routledge Studies in Leadership Research

Routledge are pleased to announce a new research series focusing on leadership. Designed for scholars and researchers within the field, as well as executives and administrators, it will reflect cutting edge international leadership research. Relevant to all aspects of business conduct for individuals and organizations, books in this new series will analyse emerging and critical perspectives on leadership research, and reflect the discipline from organizational and political perspectives as well as those of individual leaders such as CEOs.

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Organizational Behavior