Grint's “The Sacred in Leadership: Separation, Sacrifice, and Silence"

Grint, Keith. “The Sacred in Leadership: Separation, Sacrifice, and Silence.” Organization Studies 31.1 (2010): 89-107. JSTOR. Web. 29 Mar. 2016.

Grint argues that the shift in recent leadership scholarship toward distributed or shared leadership may miss an essential feature of leadership: its sacred nature. Grint writes that distributive approaches may emphasize “synergy,” “porous” boundaries, and an expansion of community knowledge through collective leadership, and these contrast the idea of leaders as heroes or gods set apart from the community (90). Grint says rather than thinking of the sacred aspect of leadership as “the elephant in the room,” we should think about it as “the room itself” (91).

Grint analyzes the etymology of “sacred” to show how it represents distance, being “set apart,” from the profane, that “sacrifice” comes from a term meaning “to make holy,” and that the “sacred” also represents silencing of anxieties before a deity (91). These concepts of separation, sacrifice, and silencing serve as a framework for Grint’s paper.

Grint suggests that the separation between leaders and followers demonstrates the distance between the sacred and the profane—that an act of mediation or veiling helps the sacred remain sacred and legitimate (93-95).  Grint writes that “just as the social identity of the group is manufactured through differentiating itself from ‘the other’… so leaders must maintain sufficient distance or difference to facilitate sacrifice where necessary” (96).

As Grint writes about sacrifice, he utilizes Rene Girard’s concept of substituting a victim for the self to deflect responsibility and “cleans[e] the community of greater social violence” (96-97).  Grint explains that at times “the sacrifice becomes the sacrificed”—leaders sacrifice followers to restore peace, but also may be scapegoated themselves, especially if they fail (98-99).

Silence is the third aspect of the sacred nature of leadership Grint discusses.  He writes that leaders ease the burden of responsibility offered by existentialism, silencing followers’ anxiety, what Erich Fromm called “‘fear of freedom’” (100-101).  The act of silencing also occurs in a more literal sense: leaders shutting down voices of dissent in order for their own vision to be clearer (101).

Grint concludes his paper by noting that it is important to remember the sacred aspect of leadership, because collaborative leadership could lead to a collapse of individualism and thus the private sphere if taken to extremes (102-103).

LeadershipKatie Ancheta