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What Leaders Should Learn from Antigone



Alessia Contu, Professor of Management, University of Massachusetts, Boston, USA.

About the speaker


Alessia Contu (she/her) is Professor of Management at the University of Massachusetts Boston, USA where she served as Chair of the Management Department between 2014 and 2021. Alessia has previously worked in the UK, at Warwick Business School (2006-13); Lancaster University Management School (2001-2006), and at University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology - UMIST (1998-2001) where she also gained her PhD. She was also awarded a Master in Management and Organizational Learning - Lancaster University Management School. Alessia trained in Italy as a psychologist in the mid-90s where she was awarded the degree of Doctor of Psychology. She currently serves as Associate Editor of Human Relations and Organization and sits on the Editorial Board of Organization Studies. Alessia is interested in psychoanalysis, political philosophy, ethics and critical theories, their significance for understanding and explaining contemporary organisational, managerial, and working practices. Alessia’s work has been published in various journals such as Human Relations, Organization Science, Organization, Journal of Management Studies, Academy of Management Review, Organization Studies, and Ephemera. Her research has focused on organisational politics and specifically organizational resistance and control in MNCs, SMEs and NGOs; the role of hegemonic management discourses such as the ‘learning’ discourse, or the ‘partnership’ discourse in reproducing unequal work relations and stable identities in late capitalism; and that of innovation, knowledge creation and sharing in communities of practice. Alessia has also intervened in a variety of debates addressing phenomena like whistleblowing, leadership, and conflict. In the past 8 years Alessia has been studying, promoting, and embracing the intellectual activism delineated by Black feminist scholars as a form of engaged praxis for social justice to transform the work of business school scholars/educators and their impact – see Alessia’s empirical research is currently focusing on Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) in management education; and democratic and alternative organisational forms including the relevance and challenges of workers buy outs, and employees owned businesses.


About the Seminar


In this paper I examine the ancient wisdom on how to make good leadership decisions that Antigone offers. Creon, Antigone's ruler, preconizes the traditionally masculine leadership conduct, with hubristic tyrannical tendencies, that deliver tragic consequences. Antigone schools Creon and its audience, firstly, by identifying the behaviours and circumstances that favour bad and untimely leadership decisions. Then Antigone presents the wisdom of phronesis as the way forward for good and timely leadership decisions. Phronesis is a pragmatic, measured rationality that comprises prudence, and a sensibility to the context, openness to dialogue, and to the other. Phronesis also calls for an open and flexible relation to error, to changing one's mind. The focus is not merely on the leader but on the relations, their differences, and opportunities, and what everyone involved in the specific circumstances of the decision can offer when listening and learning from each other. Phronesis becomes part of a modus operandi that prefigures collaborative leadership. Collaborative leadership is predicated on the collective and individual flourishing central to the dawn of democratic rule and the dilemmas Antigone examines. This review essay shows how today we still need Antigone in deepening our democracy and making better leadership decisions.


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