Measures of Faith: Science and Belief in Leadership Studies

Sverre Spoelstra*, Nick Butler, Helen Delaney

*Corresponding author for this work

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From its inception, leadership studies has embraced the positivist tradition of hypothesis testing. In this tradition, psychometric instruments are meant to ward off belief from scientific practice by testing theories against empirical facts. While leadership scholars purport to conform to the standards of value-neutral science, this paper tells a different story. Drawing on qualitative interviews with 39 positivist leadership researchers, we argue that leadership studies is heavily invested with faith in two main ways: (a) faith in leadership concepts, even when their accompanying measures fall short of methodological standards and (b) faith in leadership studies as a science, even when it is tainted by commercial interests and professional rewards. Ultimately, we suggest that positivist epistemology is accepted in leadership studies as an article of faith. By exploring the interconnection between science and belief in the business school, we draw attention to the “secular religion” of scientism in leadership studies.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Management Inquiry
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)300-311
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note



  • Leadership
  • Philosophy of science
  • Faith
  • Ethics
  • Critical leadership studies

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