Sub-theme 37: Leadership Imperatives, Imperfections, and Impossibilities in Addressing Climate Crises

Owain Smolović Jones
The Open University, United Kingdom
Anja Schaefer
The Open University, United Kingdom
Antonio Jimenez Luque
University of San Diego, USA

Call for Papers

This sub-theme is aimed at surfacing, sharing and learning from a wide range of contributions to leadership in the face of what is often (imperfectly) classed as an environmental crisis. We hope that by sharing a patchwork of practice-oriented and conceptually rich contributions, illumination will emerge concerning the role of leadership in tackling numerous climate-related crises. As such we welcome ‘naïve’ incursions into one another’s fields from a range of perspectives – leadership studies, environmentalisms, sociology, geography, economics, and so on.
We are interested in contemporary practices and discourses around nature, sustainability, indigeneity, change and crisis; and their relationship with discourses and practices of leadership – of the self, relational, feminist, ecological and systemic. We want to problematise the role of leadership in defining concepts such as environment, sustainability and crisis, as well as the authority ascribed to leaders as a result. Bringing a critical eye to the topic of environment + leadership, we seek submissions that ask foundational questions such as: Whose environment? Whose leadership? Environment for what? Leadership for what? Environment or Environments? While agency related to climate change is often constructed as complex, we are intrigued by the possibilities opened by reframing it as a different kind of problem: aesthetic, spiritual, cultural, humanistic, socio-technological-economic. Equally we wonder what it could be if we dispense with the idea of it as a problem at all – viewing it instead as a text, an artefact, a discourse, an identity, a performance, a destiny, a purgation en route to perfection. In short, we want to create more space, scrutiny and play around the environment and the potential for leadership by abandoning aspirations to ‘the perfect’ conceptualisation.
An obvious emphasis for contributions is that of responsible and ethical approaches to leadership and leadership development (Kempster & Carroll, 2016). What and who is leadership responsible towards: owners, workers, stakeholders or nature; and over compressed or more extended time spans (now, or future generations)? Here we need to acknowledge and problematise questions of plurality and diversity, in the sense that ‘we’, inhabitants of the earth, need leadership to address climate change and yet this ‘we’ is in fact comprised of multiple actors, many of whom will experience the effects in differential and unequal ways. Are these inherently conflicting and competing sets of responsibilities for environmental leadership and can new alliances be formed that overcome the present trajectory of oblivion for the many and survival for the few? We also need to explore more the embodied (Pullen & Vachhani, 2021) and joyful (Munro & Thanem, 2018) experiences of leadership, a position that may lend itself well to situating organizational practice more tightly within the metabolism of nature. ‘Indigenous’ forms of leadership seem relevant in helping us better understand these dimensions, particularly through their redefinition and reframing of the nature and meaning of the environment to relational, collective and social processes (Spiller et al., 2020). Alternatively, these fields might be explored through psychoanalytical and psycho-dynamic framing of the relations between pleasure, power, leadership and natural and modified bodies (Gosling, 2019). We would particularly like submissions to explore personal experiences of the nexus between nature, identity and existential crisis and the implications of these for leadership practice. It is here that the most intriguing imperfections might be found.
We welcome submissions that draw on a wide range of theory with potential to enrich studies of environmental leadership. Post-humanism, post-colonialism, Marxism, post-structuralism and feminism all hold potential to tell us something vital about both the ways in which environmental destruction has become normalised and how it may be possible to offer alternative, and often dissensual leadership alternatives (Barthold et al., 2020). We invite research addressing but not confined to the following questions:

  • How can better understanding the material dynamics, spatial practices and discourses of capital and corporate leadership help us better situate the challenges for a counter, environmental leadership?

  • How can we build upon notions of responsible, ethical and caring leadership to impactfully change mindsets and practices within our organizations and societies?

  • If ‘binaries need to shatter for [nature] to matter’ (Knights, 2015), which binaries can an imperfect environmental leadership challenge and for what purposes?

  • Which theories of leadership need to be sent to landfill and which can be recycled, upcycled and recombined to generate new possibilities?

  • How can we better understand the racialised and gendered dynamics of corporate leadership that heats the planet but also the leadership that offers cooling alternatives?

  • Can leadership development and other learning initiatives help us address the climate crisis within organizations and if so, how?

  • How can we make more visible core but often invisible environmental leadership stakeholders – youth, indigenous peoples and those in postcolonial contexts?



  • Barthold, C., Checchi, M., Imas, M., & Smolović Jones, O. (forthcoming): Dissensual leadership: Rethinking democratic leadership with Jacques Rancière. Organization, first published online on October 26, 2020;
  • Gosling, J. (2019): “Take your lead: the pleasures of power in universities and beyond.” Journal of Management & Organization, 25 (3), 389–395.
  • Kempster, S., & Carroll, B. (eds.) (2016): Responsible Leadership: Realism and Romanticism. London: Routledge.
  • Knights, D. (2015): “Binaries need to shatter for bodies to matter: Do disembodied masculinities undermine organizational ethics?” Organization, 22 (2), 200–216.
  • Munro, I., & Thanem, T. (2018): “The ethics of affective leadership: Organizing good encounters without leaders.” Business Ethics Quarterly, 28 (1), 51–69.
  • Pullen, A., & Vachhani, S.J. (2021): “Feminist Ethics and Women Leaders: From Difference to Intercorporeality.” Journal of Business Ethics, 173, 233–243.
  • Spiller, C., Maunganui Wolfgramm, R., Henry, E., & Pouwhare, R. (2020): “Paradigm warriors: Advancing a radical ecosystems view of collective leadership from an Indigenous Māori perspective.” Human Relations, 73 (4), 516–543.
Owain Smolović Jones is Director of the Research into Employment, Empowerment and Futures academic centre of excellence at The Open University, United Kingdom, where is also a Senior Lecturer. His research focuses primarily on the power and spatial dynamics of leadership and leadership development. Mostly concerned with exploring leadership from the grassroots and margins, Owain is currently writing about leadership from housing activists, precarious workers, environmentalists and political party socialists.
Anja Schaefer is Senior Lecturer in Management in the Department of Public Leadership and Social Enterprise at the Open University, United Kingdom. Her research has focused on business responsibility. Anja has conducted projects in the areas of environmental strategy and management in utility companies, industry wide approaches to CSR, sustainable consumption, public policy for corporate social responsibility, sustainability in small and medium sized enterprises, and ethics in public sector organizations. Her teaching has spanned marketing, strategy and business ethics and corporate social responsibility.
Antonio Jimenez Luque is Assistant Professor at the University of San Diego, USA, teaching and developing his research agenda on issues of leadership and social change organizations from a critical, global; and intercultural perspective. His work, broadly speaking, explores how cultural, social, and historical perspectives influence conceptualizations and practice of leadership understood as a relational process of mobilization, emancipation, and social change. At the intersection of critical theory and intercultural studies, Antonio’s research topics are (1) organizational culture, identity and change; (2) leadership and framing for sense/meaning-making; and (3) critical interculturality and global social justice.