Never Let an Academic Crisis Go to Waste: Leadership Studies in the Wake of Journal Retractions

Sverre Spoelstra*, Nick Butler, Helen Delaney

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


In 2014, leadership studies saw the retraction of a number of journal articles written by prominent researchers who are closely associated with popular concepts such as transformational leadership, authentic leadership, ethical leadership and spiritual leadership. In response, The Leadership Quarterly published a lengthy editorial that presented these retractions as a sign of health in a mature scientific field. For the editors of The Leadership Quarterly, there is no crisis in leadership studies. In this paper, we suggest that the editorial is a missed opportunity to reflect on positivist leadership studies. In our view, leadership ought to be in crisis because this would stimulate the community to question its guiding assumptions and reconsider its methods and objectives. We therefore hope to open up a critical discussion about the means and ends of mainstream leadership studies – not least of all its scientific pretensions.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number4
Pages (from-to)383-397
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Leadership studies
  • Journal retractions
  • Crisi
  • Positivism
  • Image of science
  • Philosophy of science

Cite this