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Vol. 18 (2005 Spring)

Rethinking Leadership: Leadership as Friendship

June 1, 2023


"…our brother who has been educated at schools and universities.  Do we wish to join that procession, or don't we?  On what terms shall we join that procession?  Above all, where is it leading us, the procession of educated men?"    --Virginia Woolf, Three Guineas, 1938

Virginia Woolf (1938) in Three Guineas asked where the procession of educated men was leading us.  She raised fundamental concerns about the procession of men who had been educated in colleges and universities.  Answering her own question, she pointed out that the procession was leading to war.  The political and social system, she believed, generated competitiveness, tyranny, possessiveness, and violence (Carroll 1978).  In Three Guineas, when a man from a peace society asks for help in preventing war, her response is:  "We can best help you to prevent war by not repeating your words and following your methods but by finding new words and creating new methods" (p. 143). 

If Woolf were writing today, she would raise similar questions about leadership and would be critical not only of where leadership has taken us but also how people in general tend to view leadership.  The early popularity of the so-called Afghanistan "war" and Iraq "war" would confirm for Woolf her earlier views.  She would, however, be pleased to note the number of people and groups that have been leading from a different model for leadership.  Their leadership could be characterized as leadership as friendship.

This paper proposes a rethinking of leadership that challenges the dominance of the military battle metaphor and proposes an alternative metaphor--friendship.  The paper first discusses the nature of metaphors and critiques the military battle approach to leadership.  It then focuses on friendship as a metaphor for a relational conception and practice of leadership.  The paper concludes with examples of people who lead within such a framework.