Call for papers

Arguably the time is prescient for the development of leadership. We find ourselves in a time when global needs call for a revision of market capitalism and a move towards moral capitalism; a time in which we need to ‘move from value to values, from shareholders to stakeholders, and from balance sheets to balanced development’ (Kofi Annan, 14 October, 2002). It is a time, we suggest to transition from growth to growing-well - a time for the new romantics of leadership.

In coining this phrase, it is our intention to tap into a number of resonant ideas, but also to turn away from an existing one. Miendl’s seminal work on the ‘romance of leadership’ was an exploration of the tendency (both within the literature and in organizational settings) to overestimate the significance of leadership and its impact on organisational success. First introduced by Meindl, Ehrlich and Dukerich in 1985, the phrase itself refers to the tendency to attribute responsibility for company performance to organisational leaders and to disregard other factors which might have had a part to play in the achievement of a successful outcome, and denotes ‘a strong belief – a faith – in the importance of leadership factors to the functioning and dysfunctioning of organized systems’ (Meindl and Ehrlich, 1987:91). Paying tribute to Meindl’s work, Bligh and Schyns (2007: 343) describe the tendency to ‘overuse and glorify leadership as a causal category’ as being ‘due primarily to a psychological need to make sense of complex organisational phenomena’: as a result, they say, ‘the concept of leadership has been elevated or inflated to an unwarranted status and significance’. We have much sympathy with this view when seen through a narrow, heroic and individualistic lens. We would wish, however, to re-introduce the romanticised rhetoric to situate it within current leadership discourses regarding authentic, distributed and ethical leadership where the societal, economic and environmental challenges do require us to collectively take the lead in moving forward towards doing good and growing well. We see this as both a romantic and essential requirement.

The romantic movement of the late 18th and early 19th century drew away from the harshness of the industrial revolution and sought a return to benevolent forces –  in the words of William Wordsworth (1770-1850) ‘This world is too much with us, late and soon: Getting and spending we lay waste our powers.’ In critiquing capitalism and materialism the romantic poets and other thinkers of the time celebrated nature and the spirit of the individual, with a rich appreciation of emotion and independent thinking; an emphasis on place and creativity, on vocation and purpose.  In essence they made a passionate plea for the re-finding the individual, their creativity, their sense of purpose and contribution.

We draw on these ideas for three reasons: first the DLCC conference venue is between the Lake District (the nexus of the Romantic Movement through the poets Byron, Coleridge, Shelley and Wordsworth) and the Lancashire mills – the cradle of the industrial revolution. This juxtaposition of corporate growth and wealth with individual idealism and purpose is central to our theme. 

The second reason is that the new romantics of responsible leadership seek to address such a juxtaposition though emphasis on leadership as purpose, ethics, creativity, idealism and calling. Further the new romantics of leadership draws on the legacy of narrative and the importance of storytelling as pioneered by Wordsworth and Coleridge in their influential collection of poetry ‘The Lyrical Ballards’. The notion of storytelling was significant in enabling them to create powerful oral narratives from ordinary people to describe everyday human emotions. It seeks to build on authenticity and resilience and lace such notions with individual and collective responsibility.

The third reason is to anchor the new romantics of responsible leadership with our location of Lancaster. Arguably Lancashire can lay claim to being the birthplace of the anthropocene – a geological term for the period of the impact of human activities on the Earth’s ecosystems. What better location, then, for the move towards a new way of thinking about responsible leadership in the modern world.  

Our call for papers is broad and not exclusive. We invite colleagues from academia and practice to help critique, provoke and shape debates towards understanding the dimension of the new romantics of responsible leadership. The dimensions could embrace such topic areas as:

  • Well-being and resilience
  • Calling and purpose
  • Ethics and values
  • Authenticity and responsibility
  • Creativity and individual spirit

Broader engagement

We recognise that our proposed theme may not chime with everyone, or align with important topic areas where leadership researchers and practitioners are already engaged. For this reason, we are also keen to welcome contributions away from the main theme and would see these as an important source of richness and diversity in what we hope will be a lively and engaging conference. As part of a ‘soft start’ on Monday 7 July, the conference will also host a lunchtime PhD poster competition and colloquium, to be followed by a Wordsworth Walk in the neighbouring Lake District. As it also coincides with the celebration of Lancaster University’s 50th year, we hope to make it a truly memorable event.