Violent innocence: a contradiction at the heart of leadership

Russ Vince, Abdelmagid Mazen

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The aim of this article is to inform a shift from the idea that we need to have “better leaders” towards a better appreciation of emotions and power relations that make leadership possible and impossible in practice. The article makes two inter-connected contributions to knowledge. First, “violent innocence” is introduced as a construct that is helpful in understanding inter-personal and organizational processes of projection and denial connected to leadership. Second, the construct is used to comprehend a “structure of innocence” in organizations arising from symbolic violence and connected to destructive relations of power that are accepted as normal. Three illustrations of violent innocence are discussed and linked with contradictions that are integral to leadership in practice. These contradictions emerge from particular dynamics: that leadership is often undertaken in a hostile environment covered up with positivity; that it is informed by strategies that create relations of dependence and domination; that it is inseparable from the exercise and experience of power; and that it is bound up with projective dynamics that connect the “unwanted self” of the leader with systemic processes of destruction. The article concludes with a discussion of the productive consequences of integrating the “dark side” into our understanding of leadership practice.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-207
Number of pages19
JournalOrganization Studies
Issue number2
Early online date22 Jan 2014
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014


  • dark side
  • emotion
  • leadership
  • symbolic violence
  • violent innocence


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