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Reflection on common terminology

Reflection on common terminology
The terms that typically emerge when you ask people what a leader is supposed to be and do include:

  • Charismatic
  • Transformational
  • Visionary
  • Inspirational
  • Servant
  • Genius
  • Strategic
  • Brilliant
  • Authentic
  • Strong

Typically, these terms are positive, indicating that we tacitly believe that leaders are supposed to be a force for good.

Interestingly, scholars have reflected on the fact that our ideas about leadership is often inspired by religious imagery.

  • Charisma = to be in God’s grace
  • Inspiration = according to the Bible, part of the creation story, i.e. God breathed spirit into clay puppets to give life to human beings
  • Visionary = what prophets are, they lead ordinary people to their destined future
  • Transformational = the ability to change people, for instance from being sinners to being saved and blessed.

The strange thing about leadership terminology is that long after scientific enquiry challenged religious beliefs, religious assumptions persist in our everyday language… It hides behind our terms and continues to shape our thinking and our practices. Rational or scientific understanding allows us to consider whether we should in fact continue to harbour certain beliefs about ‘leaders’.

For instance, our beliefs about visionary leadership may for example be challenged. One of the ‘myths’ that are perpetuated, is that female leaders are less ‘visionary’ than their male counterparts. In my own research, I have challenged this belief by tracking the roots of this belief back to certain flawed logics that underpins gender stereotypes.

Another set of assumptions that we may want to challenge has to do with the nature of leadership as

  • Being something good
  • Bringing about positive results
  • Being related to ‘character’
  • Being ‘authentic’

In the next exercises, we will also challenge the simplistic belief that leaders are necessarily good, by interrogating what we mean by ‘good’.

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