In discussions circling around what makes successful leadership, the notion of creativity is often cherished as a key component. Inspiring and motivating creative thinking and unorthodox modes of operation, and fostering opportunities for associates to utilize such means so as to enhance organizational performance, are often posited as some of the most important tasks on part of the contemporary leader. Allowing scope for associates to passionately engage in creative efforts is often assumed to foster personal development and provide opportunities for self-realization. Which supposedly is desirable both for the individual and the organization in its entirety, since this is assumed to bring a certain degree of harmony to the business – for instance, by aligning refractory interests. So the story goes, at least, in that specific turn of leadership studies which has been headed by Bernard Bass (1985, 1999, 2000) and others (see e.g., Avolio & Bass, 1995; Bass & Avolio, 1997; Avolio, Bass & Jung, 1999; Bass & Riggio, 2006), and which is often referred to as transformational leadership.
Turning to Slavoj Žižek’s reading of Jacques Lacan’s work, and specifically the framework of the four discourses of psychoanalysis, this essay strives to explore another, and quite contradictory side of this beguiling story. Indeed, it argues that the concept of transformational leadership – as it is commonly theorized by Burns and others – best be understood as an ideological construct that is perfectly aligned with a broader discourse in late capitalist, contemporary society. And it pays special interest to a dynamics arguably lurking in the shadows of the idealized depictions of the phenomenon that one typically comes across in much literature homing in on the topic; to a suppressed dynamics arguably also at work in the ideological discourses promoting it as an ‘exemplary’ form of leadership (cf. Conger, 1999).
Ultimately the essay suggests that transformational leadership, through such ideological formations, is posited as a management without management, an art of leadership without the arduous and perhaps even repressive aspects inherent to management, but instead something to be enjoyed by all associated with it. And it attempts to establish a link between this proposed enjoyment and rather disharmonious workings supposedly inherent to this kind of phenomenon. This is a disharmony which stands in close relationship with hysteria and with perverse masochistic ways of subjecting to the supposed expectations of the leader – leading, possibly, to stress, agony and burnout.