How to vanquish Zombie Leadership in your office

In the shadow of the modern workplace, Zombie Leadership haunts Australian organisations, gnawing at the roots of what could be thriving management ecosystems.

Unearthed by the University of Queensland in a recent study, this archaic leadership style clings to debunked ideals, masquerading as wisdom while stifling innovation and equality.

And the real estate industry is not immune.

But what is Zombie Leadership?

According to Professor Alex Haslam, who led the study, Zombie Leadership refers to commitment to a set of older leadership ideals that have been repeatedly debunked, but which refuse to die.

“One example is the assumption that leadership is exclusive to people with special qualities, which set them apart from the masses,” he said.

“Zombie leadership also considers authority as only involving leaders.

“But leadership can never be a solo process because it’s always grounded in relationships and connections between leaders and those they influence.”

Other examples of Zombie Leadership include the idea that all leadership is the same, that good leadership is easily recognised, that people can’t cope without leadership and that leadership is always good. 

Zombie Leadership lives on, not because it has a lot of support, but because it flatters and appeals to elites, as well as to the anxieties of ordinary people in a world that’s seemingly beyond their control.

Prof Haslam said Zombie Leadership was not something organisations should want flourishing in their business.

“Zombie Leadership is poisonous for organisations and society,” he said.

“If leadership is considered a special skill limited to special people, it signals it as an elite and exclusive activity and helps to justify inequalities of esteem, recognition and reward.

“This creates problems not only for organisations, but for leaders themselves – because it fuels narcissism and failure to appreciate and capitalise on the potential of others.”

Prof Haslam said Zombie Leadership also reduced productivity and the health of team members, even alienating them and discouraging them from contributing to the organisation.

But he said there were strategies that could be deployed to overcome Zombie Leadership and its negative effects.

“People first need to understand what Zombie Leadership is, so they recognise when they come across it,” Prof Haslam said.

“Understanding leadership as a group process can help leaders be more inclusive.

“And then championing an approach which sees leadership as a process everyone can contribute to will make groups more successful.

“It’s time to work together to stamp out Zombie Leadership because it has persisted for far too long.”

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Kylie Dulhunty

Kylie Dulhunty is the Editor at Elite Agent.