From hollow hero to expert empathiser: leadership in transition

Kerrie Fleming*, Carla Millar, Vicki Culpin

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
10 Downloads (Pure)


Purpose: Leader-centred teaching has often taken as normal a cyclical pattern of business, which Marques (2014) argues is no longer the appropriate model. The purpose of this paper is to examine the current leadership curriculum paradigm and the case for an alternative pedagogy which better caters for the messy reality – without recurrent patterns or historical certainties – that global organisations and their business leaders currently often have to deal with. In particular, it addresses implications for the “hero” model of leadership. Design/methodology/approach: The empirical findings are elicited through a combination of case studies, qualitative surveys and action research methods which include organisational development which encourages leaders to develop skills and capability to enquire into and work with their own group processes and design. Arts-based methods, such as poetry, music, painting, sculpture or music are offered as a means to help cultivate the leader’s creative potential and reach into those vulnerable places which often remain hidden amongst traditional didactic methods of facilitation. Findings: The empirical findings call for a deconstruction of the hero leader through increasing reflexivity to help leaders understand their own feelings, reactions and motives. It encourages bespoke leadership competencies which can be adapted for individuality. This suggests that contemporary leaders and managers first need to understand what capacities and deficiencies they have as individuals, and second how to build an appropriate mix of skills through understanding and reflecting on their own individual experiences and actions. Originality/value: The paper introduces an approach to leadership training which takes account of the demand for organisations to serve a social purpose, and the need for effectively leading a workforce where the power of the individual is growing with millennials pushing this and questioning the very premises of corporate behaviour and economic and social principles which guide it. It acknowledges that the demands on leaders are shoulder-buckling at the best of times but proposes that business school teaching on leadership must address the messiness of reality and offer means and ways of thriving in spite of such chaos.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)606-612
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of management development
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 10 Sept 2018


  • Leadership
  • Management education
  • n/a OA procedure


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