Charismatic leadership and corporate cultism at Enron: the elimination of dissent, the promotion of conformity and organisational collapse.
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Enron stands out as one of the most spectacular failures in business history. Thus far, most attention has been focused on its accountancy practices. This paper, by contrast, explores its internal culture and the leadership practices of its top people. These included a particular emphasis on charismatic leadership, particularly in the persons of Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling; the promotion of a compelling vision by these leaders, of a totalistic nature; individual consideration, expressed in a recruitment system designed to activate a process analogous to conversion; and the promotion of a culture characterized by conformity and the penalizing of dissent. Drawing on the vast archive of material now available on Enron, and in particular on the best known accounts of former employees, the paper discusses to what extent Enron can be usefully regarded as an example of a corporate cult. Finally, the discussion is located in the context of emerging trends in business and leadership practice, and considers the extent to which what happened in Enron is suggestive of a growing business phenomenon.