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Leadership and charisma: a desire that cannot speak its name?

Harding, N.; Lee, H.; Ford, J.; Learmonth, M.

Leadership and charisma: a desire that cannot speak its name? Thumbnail


N. Harding

H. Lee

M. Learmonth


Leadership has proved impossible to define, despite decades of research and a huge number of publications. This article explores managers’ accounts of leadership, and shows that they find it difficult to talk about the topic, offering brief definitions but very little narrative. That which was said/sayable provides insights into what was unsaid/ unsayable. Queer theory facilitates exploration of that which is difficult to talk about, and applying it to the managers’ talk allows articulation of their lay theory of leadership. This is that leaders evoke a homoerotic desire in followers such that followers are seduced into achieving organizational goals. The leader’s body, however, is absent from the scene of seduction, so organizational heteronormativity remains unchallenged. The article concludes by arguing that queer and critical leadership theorists together could turn leadership into a reverse discourse and towards a politics of pleasure at work.


Harding, N., Lee, H., Ford, J., & Learmonth, M. (2011). Leadership and charisma: a desire that cannot speak its name?. Human Relations, 64(7), 927-949.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date Jul 1, 2011
Deposit Date Jan 6, 2011
Publicly Available Date Jul 1, 2012
Journal Human Relations
Print ISSN 0018-7267
Electronic ISSN 1741-282X
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 64
Issue 7
Pages 927-949
Keywords Charisma, Critical leadership studies, Followers, Heterotopias, Leadership, Queer theory, Sexualities.
Public URL


Accepted Journal Article (782 Kb)

Copyright Statement
The final definitive version of this article has been published in the Journal Human relations 64/7 2011 © The Author(s) 2011 by SAGE Publications Ltd at the Human relations page: SAGE Journals Online:

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