The imaginaries of Leadership

A warrior? Paternalistic? Creative? Powerful? Sensitive? Intuitive? Orchestral conductor? Charismatic? What were the imaginations of leadership in the past? What are they today? What are the prospects and levers for influencing these imaginations? For our association, whose mission is to help preserve our humanity in the 21st century, this research program is an obvious choice. It has become urgent and necessary to map, question and help renew the imaginary world of leadership, in order to promote a model of desirable leadership, inspired by life and driven by the heart, a creator of economic activities that are genuinely useful to the world.

Research objectives

In June 2022, we commissioned the sociology firm Eranos to carry out a research programme on “imaginary leadership” with the following objectives:

  • yesterday, through a historical approach to the forms of expression of Western leadership ;
  • of today, with young people in France, to understand what they see as a good leader or a desirable leader, what skills and competencies are in demand, and where their imaginations are ‘created’; 
  • of tomorrow, to put them back into context for the world to come (particularly with regard to the perception of global risks by young people in France).

The three stages of the project

Main results of surveys of young people

  • Young people mainly perceive global ecological risks, and less so social and geostrategic risks. The exploratory samples are much more sensitive to global risks than the representative panel of French young people.
  • The risks of technological drift are less perceived overall. That said, young people do not have an idealised vision of digital technology. In the exploratory surveys, many risks associated with the development of artificial intelligence systems were identified.
  • In the French exploratory sample, respondents expressed doubts about the ability of their training to respond usefully to global risks.
  • The family circle is the main source of leadership models. For students and young professionals, this circle is extended to include colleagues, teachers and friends.
  • So, when it comes to identifying personalities who represent their ideal leader in the world of politics, music, sport, TV series/cinema or voluntary organisations, no single figure stands out. 
  • In addition to the family circle, social networks in the business sector are becoming increasingly influential in shaping people’s imaginations.
  • The persona of the “small entrepreneur” seems more desirable and closer to the values of young French people than that of the top executive.
  • Young French people identify certain great leaders as counter-models and explicitly state the reasons for their rejection.
  • The report on the history of leadership theories (phase 1 of the study) identified two main leadership regimes: one that is highly individual and embodied, and the other with a stronger relational component.
  • There is an intensification of expectations relating to each of these two regimes: young people expect a leader to reconcile both vision and interpersonal skills.
  • When we ask young people to rate the skills expected of a leader, those of Heart Leadership (in particular empathy and courage, and to a lesser extent intuition) come out strongly in both the representative sample of French young people and the French exploratory sample.


the research results


research partner


Eranos is a strategy consultancy bridging the gap between the humanities and business, specialising in Corporate Social Transformation. For 15 years and in more than 10 countries, the Eranos team has been helping companies to take the first steps towards a model that contributes to society, where the end is to support life and the means its commercial and productive activity.