Dr. Marco Meuleman – Leadership and Spectacle
Dr. Marco Meuleman has looked at the society of the spectacle and how this affects the leadership views in the Western world in his PhD. He states that leadership will be the catalyst of the future spectacle. Fundamental criticism of the spectacle must be aimed at the leadership it represents. Innovative leadership research over a number of years will have to show, for example, if and how the current growing lack of trust in leadership and the economic consequences thereof have been absorbed by the spectacle and leadership.
The first question in this study was: How and to what extent do image and (in)visibility play a role in contemporary Western theory about leadership? Although not mentioned as such earlier, image and (in)visibility certainly are a part of both the traditional management literature as well as sociological theories about leadership. Both elements are present in the current schools of thought about leadership theory.
The second central question was whether leadership, in Guy Debord’s terminology, has acquired a spectacular character. Analyses show that the spectacle has infiltrated every level of current leadership and leadership theory. As we have showed, none of the authors has fundamentally criticized the large role illusion and image play in the relationship between leaders and their followers. The illusion and the image outweigh the truth, and that is accepted without question.
The elements of the society of the spectacle figure prominently in all the articles. The authors, for example, acknowledge the influence of illusion and celebrity in appointment processes and the consequences of identifying with leaders.
Furthermore, the authors of the articles describe a number of trends where leadership will have to adapt. But there are no proposals to root out abuses. The authors make the observation that, under the influence of the commodity fetish, leaders award themselves extremely large bonuses. However, they do not advise leaders to stop this practice. No; instead they propose new, seemingly reasonable regulations that stifle further criticism of large bonuses.
The authors then focus on secondary problems that are a result of the spectacle. In short, they acknowledge the symptoms (with appointments, in communication, in bonuses, in control, in manipulating information, etcetera), but do not specifically identify them as spectacle.
The solutions that they offer therefore only address the symptoms; as a result they subconsciously allow the spectacle to absorb its shortcomings and become stronger. Fundamental criticism on the influences that make leadership evenmore spectacular is nowhere to be found. These remarkable conclusions round off this study, but open the way to further innovative leadership research in the future. Will the spectacle succeed in absorbing the criticism on leadership?
Boltanski and Chiapello claim that neo-capitalism has been able to survive this long because of its ability to adjust to criticism. According to Boltanski and Chiapello, that is how neo-capitalism has become strong, because it has the ability to absorb criticism and to incorporate it in neo-capitalism in an adapted form. Furthermore, in the last phase of neo-capitalism power has become diffuse. The CEOs, managers, political leaders, visionaries and the like do give direction, only according to Boltanski and Chiapello it is based on a vision or ideology that appears to exist outside the leader. Boltanski and Chiapello assert that CEOs, managers, political leaders, etcetera, are the ones who spread neo-capitalism and absorb the criticism on it. The same applies to the society of the spectacle.
Leadership, in fact, has become the visible link between the immediate perceptible world and the world of the spectacle. Criticism on leadership becomes criticism on the neo-capitalist spectacle. Leadership represents the spectacle, because it profits from it. Current leadership will want to keep power diffuse and
preserve the spectacle.
In my view, leadership will be the catalyst of the future spectacle. Fundamental criticism of the spectacle must be aimed at the leadership it represents. Innovative leadership research over a number of years will have to show, for example, if and how the current growing lack of trust in leadership and the economic consequences thereof, such as the ‘credit crisis’, have
been absorbed by the spectacle and leadership.