In attempting to escape from the clutches of heroic leadership we now seem enthralled by its apparent opposite—distributed leadership: in this post-heroic era we will all be leaders so that none are. This essay suggests that we need to reconsider the nature of leadership if we are to assess alternatives and a critical aspect is its relationship to the sacred. I suggest that the sacred nature of leadership is not so much the elephant in the room but the room itself—the space that allows leadership to work. Leadership embodies three elements of the sacred: the separation between leaders and followers, the sacrifice of leaders and followers, and the way leaders silence the anxiety and resistance of followers. The essay concludes that non-sacred governance systems are plausible but that the effort and responsibility required would politicize the private sphere and render radical alternatives—non-sacred leadership—only viable for short-term, small scale organizations.We need therefore to find ways of engaging with, rather than seeking to avoid, the sacred nature of leadership.
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