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Re/searching leadership: A critique in Two Agonies and Nine Fits

Ford, J.; Harding, N.; Gilmore, S.

Re/searching leadership: A critique in Two Agonies and Nine Fits Thumbnail


N. Harding

S. Gilmore


Since the nineteenth century much academic effort has been expended researching leadership. Bodies of theory have risen to dominance, proved unsatisfactory, and been replaced by another generation of ultimately-disappointing leadership thought. This repetitive pattern continues, so we ask what motivates this continuing, seemingly fruitless search? Focusing on researchers and not leadership per se, our analysis is inspired by two surprisingly complementary sources: psychoanalytical theory and Lewis Carroll’s epic nonsense poem The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits. Together they lead to a theory that re/search is motivated by unconscious desires to experience the transformational object – an ultimately unachievable search but one that unconsciously sustains the ever-growing field of leadership research. In contributing a new psychoanalytical theory of unconscious motivations that inspire our research, we also demonstrate the inspiration poetry may offer organizational researchers. We conclude by offering a ninth fit which leaps into the void of future thought and finds that the leadership Snark was, in fact, a Boojum.


Ford, J., Harding, N., & Gilmore, S. (2023). Re/searching leadership: A critique in Two Agonies and Nine Fits. Human Relations, 76(6), 809-832.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Jan 4, 2022
Online Publication Date Feb 24, 2022
Publication Date 2023-06
Deposit Date Jan 20, 2022
Publicly Available Date May 18, 2023
Journal Human Relations
Print ISSN 0018-7267
Electronic ISSN 1741-282X
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 76
Issue 6
Pages 809-832
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (368 Kb)

Copyright Statement
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Lficense ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (

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