Letter: 'Messiah' myth

Joyce McMillan (Opinion, 19 June) is quite right to attack the complacency and mediocrity of what she terms our leadership class. But her solution to the problem seems to deal just with the symptoms – to look for more "great leaders" to get us out of a hole. I'm not convinced.

Psychologists have pointed out that organisations or countries going through difficulties will often develop a sort of "messiah syndrome", whereby they believe a superhero leader (usually male) will rescue them. Sadly, people who take on this rescuing role often fail to deliver and, worse, might take advantage of people's faith to become, in the worst cases, toxic monsters like Hitler or Stalin.

A number of experts like my colleague at Kent University, Professor Dennis Tourish, who has written about leadership in this paper, believe that it would be far more constructive to investigate the process of leadership and what takes place between leader and followers to promote good decision making. The "great leader" myth sees followers as passive and powerless, whereas in fact we all possess the potential to be both effective leaders and followers, and thus to make good decisions which are based on reason rather than group hysteria.

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Given the challenges which face Scotland and the wider world, it is time we moved on from the outdated myth of the leader as superhero and develop the latent leadership skills which we all possess, so that we can all be accountable in the process of solving our own problems.

I would challenge those who see themselves as members of "our current leadership class" to stop posturing and help those who are inexperienced, disaffected or uninterested to get involved in the issues that matter.


Department of Management

Aberdeen Business School

Robert Gordon University