An ILA Leadership Perspectives Webinar

Franz Kafka and the Truths of Leadership

Franz Kafka and the Truths of Leadership. With Leah Tomkins Presenter and Joanne B. Ciulla (Moderator)


With Dr. Leah Tomkins in conversation with Dr. Joanne B. Ciulla

Drs. Leah Tomkins and Joanne B. Ciulla discuss Kafka’s incredible and enduring relevance and how the ‘Kafkaesque’ can help us develop a different and constructive understanding of the dynamics of leadership.

Cost: Free to ILA Members; $9.95 for non-members.

Franz Kafka is one of the most important writers of the 20th century, but he is also one of its most misunderstood. Leah Tomkins, author of Franz Kafka and the Truths of Leadership, uncovers a different Kafka from the popular image of him as the patron-saint of the victim or underdog. Based on extensive primary research with his original manuscripts, she emphasizes the significance of Kafka’s own work as a leader, and explores his professional and literary expertise in the exercise of power. Kafka anticipates many of the core themes and techniques of leadership — both good and bad — including leadership of the populist variety, where facts are often overpowered by fictions and fantasies. Whether we are leaders ourselves or simply affected by others who make decisions on our behalf, her analysis offers provocative new ideas about how leading can so easily become misleading.

In this webinar, Leah Tomkins will be talking to Joanne B. Ciulla about Kafka’s incredible and enduring relevance. Together, they will be discussing how the “Kafkaesque” can help us develop a different and constructive understanding of the dynamics of leadership — both the leadership we practice ourselves and the leadership we experience at the hands of others. Their conversation will include a range of leadership role-models and anti-role-models, such as Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Jacinda Ardern, Donald Trump and Boris Johnson.

By attending this webinar, participants will

  • Develop a new understanding of Kafka’s relevance for the practices and tactics of leadership.
  • Develop new analytical insights into some of the most famous models of leadership, including authentic leadership.
  • Develop an appreciation of Kafka as a forerunner of “discursive leadership.”
Leah Tomkins

Leah Tomkins is a Professor of Leadership and Organisation, with academic affiliations with the Universities of Oxford, Cranfield and the University of the West of England. Prior to re-entering academia as a second career, she had a successful corporate career, holding leadership roles in organisations including Accenture, KPMG and the Cabinet Office, the central institution of the UK government. She is section editor for the Journal of Business Ethics (Leadership: Philosophical Perspectives and Qualitative Analysis of Ethics), and formerly associate editor and inaugural social media editor for Leadership.

As an undergraduate at Oxford in the 1980s, she was an enthusiastic student of Kafka but, like many people, assumed that Kafka’s greatest resonance was probably for the existential crises of adolescence — something one would eventually grow out of. Over subsequent decades, she has returned to Kafka time and time again, and become persuaded of his incredible relevance for the issue of how power is (and isn’t) exercised, and hence for leadership. Her book, Franz Kafka and the Truths of Leadership, is out now, published by Edward Elgar. Proudly interdisciplinary, it examines Kafka through the eyes of leadership and leadership through the eyes of Kafka. It is relevant for leadership across the ages, but especially for a ‘post-truth’ world where the truth is often overpowered by a spin-doctored social media frenzy of competing interpretations, fictions and fantasies.

Joanne B. Ciulla

Joanne B. Ciulla is a pioneer in the field of leadership ethics. Her research focuses on the ethical challenges of leadership. She has also written extensively on topics in business ethics such as meaningful work. Before joining RBS, she held the Coston Family Chair in Leadership and Ethics at the Jepson School of Leadership Studies (University of Richmond), where she was one of the school’s founders. Jepson was the first degree-granting liberal arts school of its kind in the world.

Ciulla has held academic appointments at Harvard Business School, The Wharton School, LaSalle University. Her visiting positions include the UNESCO chair in Leadership Studies at the United Nations International Leadership Academy (Jordan), the Gourley Professor of Business Ethics, University of Melbourne (Australia) and visiting professorships at the University of Fort Hare (South Africa), Nyenrode Business School (Netherlands), Oxford University (Green College), and the Harvard’s Kennedy School. She has also been a Fulbright Specialist.

For her scholarship, Ciulla has received Lifetime Achievement Awards from the International Leadership Association, The Society for Business Ethics, and the Network of Leadership Scholars at the Academy of Management. In addition, she is the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award for Service to the field of business ethics from the Society for Business Ethics, a Master Teacher Award from The Wheatley Institution at Brigham Young University, an Outstanding Faculty Award from the Virginia State Council of Higher Education, and a Distinguished Educator Award from the University of Richmond.

Ciulla sits on the editorial boards of The Business Ethics Quarterly, The Leadership Quarterly, and Leadership and edits the New Horizons in Leadership Studies Series (Edward Elgar), one of the largest collections of books from the humanities and the social sciences on leadership. She has served as president of The Society for Business Ethics and The International Society for Business, Ethics, and Economics. In addition, Ciulla has also worked with the Aspen Institute, The Brookings Institution, and the World Economic Forum. She has been an expert witness, consulted and given lectures and seminars to business, government, and non-profit organizations worldwide.

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