Re/searching leadership: A critique in two agonies and nine fits

Jackie Ford, N Harding, Sarah Gilmore

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (SciVal)
1 Downloads (Pure)


Since the 19th century, much academic effort has been expended researching leadership. Bodies of theory have risen to dominance, proved unsatisfactory and been replaced by another generation of ultimately disappointing leadership thought. This repetitive pattern continues, so we ask what motivates this continuing, seemingly fruitless search? Focusing on researchers and not leadership per se, our analysis is inspired by two surprisingly complementary sources: psychoanalytical theory and Lewis Carroll’s epic nonsense poem, The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits. Together they lead to a theory that re/search is motivated by unconscious desires to experience the transformational object—an ultimately unachievable search but one that unconsciously sustains the ever-growing field of leadership research. In contributing a new psychoanalytical theory of unconscious motivations that inspire our research, we also demonstrate the inspiration poetry may offer organizational researchers. We conclude by offering a ninth fit, which leaps into the void of future thought and finds that the leadership Snark was, in fact, a Boojum.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)809-832
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number6
Early online date27 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 30 Jun 2023


  • Christopher Bollas
  • Jessica Benjamin
  • Lewis Carroll
  • critical leadership
  • leadership theories
  • object relations
  • psychoanalysis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Social Sciences(all)
  • Strategy and Management
  • Management of Technology and Innovation


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