In extremis leadership of Sartrean authenticity: Examples from Xenophon's Anabasis


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Purpose - The purpose of this paper is to extend the body of knowledge of authentic leadership in extreme contexts by developing a framework grounded in the Sartrean existentialist perspective on authenticity and illustrating this framework using the works of Xenophon. Design/methodology/approach - The authors use Sartre's existential view of authenticity to develop a framework of authentic leadership in extreme contexts. They then use this framework to examine Xenophon's recount of the retreat of the 10,000 in the classic work, Anabasis. For this analysis, the authors iterate between the ideas of the past and the concepts of the present to understand how this classic has influenced and informed the current body of knowledge about leadership. Findings - Using a Sartrean existentialist lens, "in extremis" authentic leaders exhibit an awareness of context extremity, responsibility in leading and following to share risks in extreme contexts and self-determination that inspires mutual trust and loyalty. Practical implications - A Sartrean existentialist perspective suggests that authentic leaders in extreme contexts reflect authenticity by exhibiting and encouraging freedom of choice. By espousing this perspective, authentic leaders create common goals and interests that appeal to followers' intrinsic motivation which has been found to result in positive individual and organizational outcomes. Originality/value - This paper contributes to the authentic leadership literature by using an existential conceptualization of authenticity to examine leadership in extreme contexts. This conceptualization might be more appropriate than the Aristotelian virtue-based deterministic philosophy that has dominated authentic leadership research.



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