Leadership as Phenomenon: Reassessing the Philosophical Ground of Leadership Studies

  • Kenneth W. BohlEmail author


The purpose of this article is to contribute to a more robust theory of leadership that shifts the frame of reference from leadership as exclusively facilitated through a single inspired leader to one that includes the view of leadership as an emergent and complex social phenomenon. The article begins with a review of the leader-centric approaches that dominated much of twentieth century leadership studies then moves on to present contemporary critiques of leader-centric approaches leading to an alternative perspective of leadership as an emergent and complex social phenomenon. Viewing leadership as an emergent and complex social phenomenon changes our attitude regarding the roles that leaders and others play in the creation of leadership. A central theme of this article is the impact that the concept of emergence has on leadership theory. In response to this changing attitude, the article then moves to return to and reassess the ontological, epistemological and ethical grounds of leadership and concludes that there is an underlying philosophy that supports viewing leadership as an emergent social phenomenon and further suggests that recent work in virtue epistemology along with Calvin Schrag’s theory of communicative praxis and transversal rationality, can facilitate a better understanding of leadership as an emergent social phenomenon.


Philosophy of leadership Leadership phenomenon Social complexity Business ethics Leadership-as-practice 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

On behalf of all authors, the corresponding author states that there is no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Eberly College of Business and Information TechnologyIndiana University of PennsylvaniaIndianaUSA

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