University of Exeter, UK
2017, Vol. 13(1) 35–47 ! The Author(s) 2016 Reprints and permissions: sagepub.co.uk/journalsPermissions.nav DOI: 10.1177/1742715016680675 lea.sagepub.com
Suggestions that change can be handled through ‘adaptation and resilience’ assume continuity of cultural norms and value judgements, but here we explore what might happen if cultural assump- tions are upset by radically discontinuous change. We ask what it means to be in change that is beyond adaptation, change that utterly confounds our notions of what is good or great, what is natural or just; in particular, what would it mean for leadership? There are many historical examples to draw on, and in this paper we refer to Chinua Achebe’s novel Things Fall Apart, which examines the transformation of a dynamic and conflicted, but more or less stable traditional culture when it is impacted by colonialism. We discuss themes of identity, authority, masculinity, justice, change, virtue and otherness as elucidated in relation to the novel’s protag- onist, Okonkwo; and suggest analogies with potentially catastrophic effects of climate and economic change in our own societies. We also discuss ways in which referring to fiction – our method – provides an alternative to the kinds of reductionist processes inherent in more common social science framings of leadership (psychological, political, cultural, etc).