Leadership, Pandemic, and Disease


Inaugural Issue--Leadership, Disease, and Pandemic

Julian Maxwell Hayter, Co-Editor IJLS, University of Richmond

We are pleased to release the inaugural volume of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Leadership Studies (IJLS). This publication is a new cross-disciplinary, peer-reviewed journal that seeks to publish work by scholarly disciplinary experts addressing issues that are relevant to academic inquiry related to society, policy, politics, and leadership, broadly defined. Prompts from the present often inform scholarly inquiry. To that end, we have dedicated the first volume of IJLS to crisis.

The study of leadership has been the center of learned reflection and debate since reflections on humanity began—some of the most reflective conversations on matters of leadership emerge in times of crisis. We believe at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies that leadership is not merely universal to human groups, but that it is also characterized by a complex moral relationship between people. These relationships are often predicated on role agreement. In other words, leadership is often defined by the struggle between leaders, followers, and their environments. Crises often challenge these relationships. Leadership studies explores fundamental questions about who we are, how we live together, and how we influence the course of humanity. It also examines how humanity meets challenges. Crises often give rise to new questions about leadership, its successes, and its failures. There is no better time than the present, on the heels of a global pandemic, to ask these questions and perhaps provide insight to solutions. We hope that the following articles meet these challenges.

Epidemiological considerations and sickness have had and continue to have myriad implications for leadership. Disease, illness, and pandemics have shaped the course of human industry, exchange, and innovation on every continent of the world occupied by civilization. Complex societies necessitate migration and exchange, and the cross-cultural contact that results has consequences. As people forged and continue to forge increasingly complex and dense societies, nations, and cities, the spread of communicable diseases became an inevitability. The rise of transportation, trade routes, and human mobility has, at times, devastated human populations. We are interested in both historical and contemporary examinations of the ways in which disease and pandemics have left their indelible mark on leadership, society, culture, justice, and, in the modern sense, policy. These questions, we believe, drive at the heart of what leadership is and is not.

The first portion of this volume interrogates the challenges diseases place upon leadership. Dr. Kelly L. Bezio asks what pandemics can tell us about servant leadership. Bezio asks how communities of color, many already vulnerable before COVID-19, gravitated toward servant leadership to meet the challenges of communities disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Scholars Scott T. Allison and James K. Beggan too examine the disproportionate burden some bore during the pandemic—in their case, front-line workers, more generally. They examine, more specifically, the use and misuse of hero labels during the COVID crises and what this label demonstrates about human behavior during deep crises. This is followed by Anthony Presti Russell's comparison of literary works focused on both medieval plague in Boccaccio's Decameron and an imagined post-modern plague in Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven.

This volume then moves on to discuss the relationship between leadership and ethics more broadly, reflecting on, in fact, the ethical implications of effective leadership. Dr. Robert Audi argues, “leadership is above all a trait of character that fits its possessors for directing a range of interpersonal activities; that it requires special skills in directing activities by those a leader is to guide; that such direction calls for being appropriately authoritative without being mere coercive; and that there are moral standards leadership can both embody and promote in the positive way achievable by what I call ethical leadership.”

Later in the issue, we have included a section entitled “IJLS Commentaries,” a section devoted to a more casual—yet thoughtful—consideration of leadership and leadership phenomena in the world. Here, Kimberly Yost offers us “The Pathology of Ideology,” a piece that considers some of the parallels between science fiction pandemics and authoritarianism and our modern sociopolitical conditions throughout much of the West. Dr. Yost draws from a selection of science fiction works to suggest themes that can teach us about the pitfalls and provide us with the possibility of hope in a world facing both a long pandemic and increased polarization and authoritarian rule.

It is our hope that Dr. Yost’s piece will provide a model for future scholars who want to consider similar thematic approaches to questions and problems of leadership, whether in relation to popular culture, social media, scientific advances, recent events, or other fields. In addition to publishing fully researched critical pieces, IJLS hopes that our “Commentaries” section will help scholars and teachers think about and have access to new ideas that are still percolating, ideas that reach across disciplinary boundaries, and ideas that might be more accessible to undergraduate or high school students without an extensive background in leadership studies.

We round out this initial volume with a review of Scott Aiken and Robert Talisse’s Political Argument in a Polarized Age: Reason and Democratic Life by Brandon W. Kliewer. Kliewer’s review begs readers to question another contemporary crisis—the relationship between democracy and political polarization.