Sub-theme 41: Embodying Leadership with Ethics in Mind

Alison Pullen
Swansea University, UK
Pasi Ahonen
Swansea University, UK
Suzanne Gagnon
McGill University, Canada

Call for Papers

Given the need to operationalise effective leadership in fast changing organizational times and often within states of economic, political and social crisis, the practical as well as epistemic challenges that leaders face require serious academic scrutiny. In this stream we perform such analysis by contesting the continued theorization and research of leadership as disembodied, and instead paying critical attention to the corporeal nature of leadership itself. In this way we offer this stream as a place to think about the ways in which leadership is an affective and embodied practice.

Whether it is transformational leadership, charismatic leadership, or situational leadership, the common assumption is that good leadership emanates from the mind or personality. If the body is considered, it is done so superficially, for example by associating leadership effectiveness with physical characteristics and/or assuming that the leader is able bodied and ostensibly Western. To date there have been only a small number of studies that recognize the embodied nature of leadership or question leaders’ disembodied character (e.g. Ropo & Parviainen, 2001; Ropo & Sauer, 2008; Sinclair, 2005). The bodily and affective labour of leadership and its relationship with ethical practice have also been largely overlooked (with notable exceptions such as Calás & Smircich, 1991). Moreover leadership's engagement with corporeal ethics, an ethics of the body, has been noted as a promising but as yet unexplored territory which is worthy of academic engagement (Pullen & Rhodes, 2010).

'Embodying Leadership' calls attention to the affective and embodied dimensions of leadership. This recognizes that leadership requires large elements of empathy, insight into others' normative and moral frameworks, considerable persuasive skills and, most especially, embodied interactions and responses between flesh-and-blood people. Some have characterized these qualities as feminine leadership (e.g. Peters, 1990). It has been argued that such characteristics are gendered such that men more closely conform to disembodied leadership and women to affective/embodied leadership (cf. Adler, 1997). Others argue that such attempts to typecast the sexes is itself gendered and that this reproduces rather than challenges taken for granted gender and sexual binary divisions, dichotomies and inequalities (Calás & Smircich, 1993; Knights & Kerfoot, 2004).


While gender, and its embodied manifestation, has received some attention in leadership studies 'race' and ethnicity has been neglected. The relationship between race and leadership has however been attended to in other fields, and there is an important stream of work by leadership scholars in critical management and organization (see Edmonson Bell & Nkomo, 2001; Parker, 2004; Chin, 2009; Mumby, 2011). Much of the existing work approaches the themes from the particular perspective of American social dynamics and racial and ethnic constructs (see Omi & Winant, 1994). Importantly, studies of embodiment and leadership appear to date to have neglected race and racialization, and ethnicity and ethnicization, notwithstanding important exceptions (e.g. hooks, 2004) even these too are embodied matters.

Bringing these threads of embodiment, gender and race together the stream will forge new directions in the study of leadership that no longer just keep leadership 'in mind'.



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Alison Pullen is Professor of Organization Studies, Swansea University, UK. Alison has published extensively in the broad areas of identity, gender, ethics and the body. She is currently engaged in numerous writing projects around embodiment, ethics and leadership including "The Materiality of Leadership" and "The Ethico-Political Organization".
Pasi Ahonen is Lecturer in Organization Studies at Swansea University, UK. His current work focuses on organizations and the media, politics of history in organizational change and analytics of power in the practice and theory of organizations. Within the field of leadership studies, Pasi's current focus is on the relationship between leadership and modalities of power. He is currently editing a collection on theory and methodology of critical leadership studies.
Suzanne Gagnon is Assistant Professor in the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University, Canada. Suzanne studies discursive and material constructions of identity, diversity and inequality and their effects, including for leadership and situated leadership actors. Amongst other projects, she is a co-lead for a five-year Community University Research Alliance (CURA) examining leadership diversity in large organizations, supported by Canada's Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC).