Lindebaum D and Zundel M (2013)
Human Relations, 66(6): 857-877
Publication year: 2013

Several provocative studies on organizational neuroscience have been published of late, many in the domain of leadership. These studies are motivated by the prospect of being able to better explain what causes and constitutes ‘good’ leadership by examining brain activity. In so doing, these studies follow an established path in organizational research that seeks to reduce complex social phenomena to more basic (neurological) processes. However, advocates of organizational neuroscience reveal very little about the fundamental problems and challenges of reductionism. Therefore, our aim in this article is to scrutinize the reductionist assumptions and processes underlying the fast-evolving domain of organizational neuroscience as it is applied to the study of leadership. We maintain that without explicit consideration of, and solutions to, the challenges of reductionism, the possibilities to advance leadership studies theoretically and empirically are limited. In consequence, inferential ambiguities that flow from such insights run the danger of informing organizational practice inadequately. Thus, we find suggestions that we are at the brink of a neuroscientific revolution in the study of leadership premature, and a sole focus on neuroscience, at the expense of insights from other social science disciplines, dangerous.