Leadership and the Stings of Command

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    In business discourse, the leader is often portrayed as the one who changes the current order. Leaders stand above the organization, and from that elevated position they can bring about the necessary change that offers a way out of whatever crisis afflicts the business. In this paper, I consider the paradoxical fact that leaders, in our popular understanding at least, do not use orders when creating order: leadership is generally thought to exclude the coercive force that we associate with the giving of orders or commands. I explore this distinction between leading and commanding through a reading of Elias Canetti’s chapter on ‘The command’ in his book Crowds and power. My overall argument is that the violence of the command (its ‘sting’, in Canetti’s terms) can also make itself felt in seemingly benign models of leadership that challenge various forms of authoritarianism. My suggestion is therefore to put the sting back into leadership research by giving up on the idea that it is possible to conceive of leadership as operating without any coercive force.
    Original languageEnglish
    JournalEphemera: Theory & politics in organization
    Issue number1
    Pages (from-to)155-172
    Number of pages18
    Publication statusPublished - 2022


    • Elias Canetti
    • Command
    • Dis/organization
    • Order
    • Leadership
    • Robert Cooper

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