2 Sacred leadership?

The core problem with leader-centred perspectives on leadership is that they feed an existing tendency within people and societies to defer to authority. People’s attitudes to leadership seem to suggest that they prefer to detach themselves from responsibility for consequences, in organisations and in social life. Grint (2010) has made the case that leadership is approached by people as a sacred object: something most people think is beyond them. For Grint, sacredness is manifested through silence, which is valued by leaders because they hear less dissent concerning their ideas and approach to leading.

The other manifestation is sacrifice, which is a twofold phenomenon. Followers sacrifice involvement and voice in leadership. But on the other hand, such a sacrifice allows followers to abdicate themselves of responsibility when things go wrong: instead, they sacrifice the leader. Scapegoating leaders is a common practice in contemporary society.

Eleven hands pointing at a goat. The goat is wearing a bell and has a startled expression on its face.
Figure 2 In transformational leadership it is common for followers to scapegoat the leader when things go wrong

A good example of scapegoating can be found in the Batmanghelidjh case. Celebrated as a heroic leader in the ‘good times’, one could argue that Batmanghelidjh was equally vilified in the ‘bad times’. ‘They made me the Angel of Peckham and now they’re going to make me the Demon of Peckham’, Batmanghelidjh told BBC documentary maker Lynn Alleway (Camila’s Kids Company, 2016). What had changed appeared to be the attitude of her followers in the media, but her trustees and the politicians were also less willing to trust her.

Activity 3: Removing leaders?

Timing: Allow about 5 minutes

Would removing Batmanghelidjh have solved the problem? Take a few minutes to think about this question.

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The trickiness of this question lies in the word ‘problem’, which remains contested. ‘What was the problem?’ might be a more appropriate question to ask under such circumstances.

The issue of child poverty in London and other inner cities is a hot and contested one, where people cannot agree on the definition of the particular issues to be solved. If you thought that the problem was a lack of family support for these children, you could argue that removing Batmanghelidjh may have harmed the prospects of at least some of Kids Company’s clients. But if you believed that the main issue was the amount of money available to tackle the problem and the allocation of this money, then you might argue that taking money away from Kids Company and dispersing it more widely amongst local government and other children’s organisations would be helpful in the longer-term.

However, you could also take a step back yet further and claim that the problem was our very preoccupation with individual leaders. In this sense, a sensible step might have been to have pursued a less individual-dominated Kids Company, with an alternative figure, or figures, in charge. Having considered transformational leadership, the course now moves on to consider some of the ways in which you can avoid some of the problems that have been surfaced.

1.3 Benefits and problems with transformational leadership

2.1 Keeping your organisation real