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Leaders and leadership in criminal activities: A scoping review

Published onMay 25, 2024
Leaders and leadership in criminal activities: A scoping review


Leadership, criminal organization, scoping review, leader, follower, criminal activities, social organization, individual factors, management


Crime is defined as an act or behavior that contravenes the socially established norms at a given time in a given place (e.g., Aebi 2006; Weibull and Villa 2005). These socially unacceptable acts or behaviors can be perpetrated by an individual or by a group of individuals who come together to pursue common goals. Criminal organizations can then be defined as an association of individuals who collaborate to generate criminal activity (i.e., make money, defend an ideology, etc.) (Bouchard 2020). Such organizations, as social entities, are of considerable interest because of their complexity and impact on society (Bouchard 2020; Mondani and Rostami 2022). Although they operate outside the law, they often have an internal structure, hierarchy, and rules that give them both stability and the ability to function effectively (Dishman 2005; Drejer, Christensen and Ulhoi 2004; Yarmysh 2001), leading to similarities in the functioning of criminal and non-criminal organizations (Gottschalk 2008b). From a sociological perspective, an organization or enterprise is defined as a group of individuals who interact with each other in a predefined structure to achieve common goals, whether these goals are legal or illegal (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b; Yarmysh 2001). Social dynamics are regulated according to varying levels of hierarchy, an important aspect of social organization that encourages efficient functioning (Dishman 2005; Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b; McGuire 2012; Nguyen and Luong 2021; United Nations 2002). Hierarchy here refers to the positioning of individuals at different levels or in different social positions in which some have more power, authority, or status than others (Kraus, Piff and Keltner 2011), creating a more or less vertical structure (depending on the type of organization) with individuals placed at different levels according to specific criteria (i.e., wealth, social position, education, political power, skills, etc.) (Diefenbach 2013), and is used in many societies to organize and structure social interactions and power relationships (Elias and Scotson 1994). For example, companies often have a hierarchical structure with clearly defined levels of authority, which increases the efficiency of the decision-making process (Finkelstein, Hambrick and Cannella Jr 2009). The hierarchical structure of social organizations is inseparable from the concept of leadership, which is defined as the ability of an individual to influence, guide, and motivate other members of the organization (Northouse 2018). A dichotomous distinction is often made for the concept of leadership: those who are endowed with it and take responsibility for it – the leaders – and those who operate under orders or influence – the followers (Bolden et al. 2003; Den Hartog and Koopman 2001). Attempts to understand the functioning of non-criminal organizations through the lens of leadership analysis has created an extensive literature (see e.g., reviews by Alblooshi, Shamsuzzaman and Haridy 2021; Day and Sammons 2013; Igbaekemen 2014).

Acknowledging the feedback provided, it becomes increasingly evident that the significance of this study, especially in the realms of understanding and preventing crime, necessitates a standalone publication. The focused examination of leadership within criminal organizations, as presented in this review, serves as a crucial pivot around which much of our current understanding and strategies for crime prevention could be reconsidered and enhanced. Leadership in these organizations is not merely about the individuals at the helm but encompasses a complex interplay of power dynamics, decision-making processes, and influence that extends across the entire organization and beyond, reaching into the communities they operate within and impact. The study of leadership within criminal organizations offers unique insights into how these entities achieve their objectives, maintain cohesion and loyalty, adapt to changes, and strategize their illegal activities. Dissecting the nuances of leadership roles, strategies, and the organizational culture within these groups helps us understand the backbone of their operational effectiveness and resilience. This understanding is paramount for law enforcement and policy-making bodies, as it can inform the development of more targeted and effective crime prevention strategies. It provides a framework to disrupt criminal activities by destabilizing their leadership structures, anticipating organizational changes, and mitigating the influence of these groups on vulnerable communities. Furthermore, this study aims to fill a significant gap in the literature by offering a comprehensive scoping review that maps out existing research on criminal leadership, identifies gaps in our knowledge, and sets a new direction for future research. It lays the groundwork for a more systematic and methodical approach to studying criminal organizations, challenging scholars and practitioners alike to think critically about the role of leadership in crime dynamics. By emphasizing the importance of leadership within these organizations, the review encourages a shift in focus toward understanding the human elements that drive criminal activities, thus opening new avenues for research and intervention strategies that extend beyond conventional law enforcement tactics. Thus, this study aims to review, through an exploratory review, the characteristics of leadership in criminal organizations and its consequences for their management.

A Multi-Theoretical Approach of Leadership in Social Organization

The study of non-criminal organizations has produced theories and paradigms aimed at explaining and understanding the concept of leadership in social organizations (Dinibutun 2020). These theories offer multifactorial and complementary visions of leadership at several levels of analysis.

The first paradigm, focused on individual factors, relies on theories such as the great man theory and trait theory, which claim that leaders possess distinctive personality traits that distinguish them from followers (Daft 2018) and several traits and characteristics have been associated with the ability to lead (Kirkpatick and Locke 1991; Lord, De Vader and Alliger 1986). This theory has received empirical validation in studies that found an over-representation of leaders with certain traits. However, several studies have found that individuals without these particular traits are also capable of being leaders (Dinibutun 2020).

A second paradigm, which emerged at the end of WWII, focuses not on the individual characteristics of leaders but on their behavior (Dinibutun 2020). This paradigm assumes that behavior is strongly associated with leadership and that while it can be impacted by individual characteristics, it can also be learned (Den Hartog and Koopman 2001). This approach, which is less positivist than the paradigm based on personality traits, has been validated by several empirical studies that have found an association between behavior, leadership, and leaders (Bass 1990; Robbins and Coulter 2005; Tannenbaum, Weschler and Massarik 2013).

The third paradigm, charismatic leadership, views leadership as dependent on specific contexts and situations. Unlike the two previous paradigms,which are based on a dichotomous conception (e.g., leader or follower), the situational paradigm introduces dimensionality and nuance by proposing that leadership is dependent on situations and contexts (Gordon 1996). On this micro-analytical approach, leadership is a heterogeneous concept and the criteria used to define it are primarily situational: there are several leadership styles and not all individuals are skilled in leadership in all contexts (Dinibutun 2020).

The charismatic leadership paradigm rests on the idea that it is not individuals who determine their status as leaders but others who attribute this position to them (Conger and Kanungo 1998; Weber 1947). In other words, it is not intrinsic qualities that qualify someone for the role of leader but the perception that others have of them. Followers attribute leadership abilities to an individual based on the criteria of heroism and charisma (Conger and Kanungo 1998; Conger and Kanungo 1987; Conger and Kanungo 1994).

Finally, leadership theorists have been interested how the leader sees his/her followers, leading to an interesting contrast between transformational and transactional perspectives on leadership (Dinibutun 2020). The transformational leadership perspective assumes that leadership involves transforming organizations and their members to align with the leader’s goals and vision (Top, Akdere and Tarcan 2015) and is based on a compelling vision presented to followers to encourage them to accept the positive goals and limit resistance to change (Burns 1978; Top, Akdere and Tarcan 2015). Interations of this vision are positive, to encourage followers to cooperate and fully engage in the tasks of the organization (Bass 1985). In contrast, transactional leadership advocates an authoritarian and very classical approach to management (e.g., power, control) (Bass 1985; Bennett 2009) and prioritizes a short-term vision of management as concentrated on organizing the daily operations and tasks of followers (Avolio, Waldman and Yammarino 1991).

Aim of the Study

This study examines the concept of leadership within criminal organizations. Our objective was to undertake a scoping review of the existing literature to identify the characteristics of leadership in these organizations and their implications for management. To determine which literature was relevant to our review, we used the following questions:

RQ1: What are the characteristics of criminal leaders?

RQ2: How is leadership conducted in criminal organizations?

RQ3: Are leaders essential to criminal organizations?



Our study adopts a scoping review methodology to explore the intricate landscape of leadership within criminal organizations. This approach, distinguished from the more narrowly focused systematic reviews, is chosen for its ability to embrace the complexity and evolving nature of criminal leadership studies (Munn et al. 2018). Scoping reviews allow for a broad examination of diverse sources, from empirical research to theoretical literature, providing a comprehensive overview of leadership dynamics, strategies, and structures in criminal contexts (Munn et al. 2018). The flexible nature of scoping reviews supports the inclusion of varied data types, making it an ideal tool to aggregate knowledge across empirical studies, theoretical discussions, and practical insights. This method enables us to present a holistic view of how criminal organizations are led, highlighting the operational tactics, hierarchical structures, and decision-making processes that define their leadership. The goal is to map the current state of research, pinpoint literature gaps, and suggest pathways for future inquiry, thereby enhancing our understanding of criminal leadership and informing more effective law enforcement and policy responses.

Our review covers literature on the topic of leadership in criminal organizations published in various scientific sources from 1960 to 2023. The objective was to identify, evaluate, and synthesize research data from peer-reviewed articles dealing with theoretical commentaries, case studies, and empirical research on leadership in the criminal contex. The methodology used was based on the principles of the SCIE (Systematic Research Reviews: Guidelines), which guided the design, search strategy, and evaluation of the literature (Rutter et al. 2013). To ensure the quality of this review, the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic reviews and Meta-Analyzes (PRISMA) checklist was followed in four empirical study selection phases: identification, screening, eligibility, and inclusion (Liberati et al. 2009; Moher et al. 2009). The analysis was performed with Covidence software, which was designed specifically to perform empirical literature reviews and whose performance in this area has been evaluated very positively (Harrison et al. 2020; Macdonald et al. 2016; McKeown and Mir 2021).


To help guide our methodological decisions, we defined leadership in the criminal context as the ability of an individual or group to influence and direct the criminal activities of a group of people involved in illegal activities. Criminal leaders are thus individuals who use their power, charisma, or expertise to gain significant influence over the criminal activities of a group or an organization in order to lead and control members of that group (e.g., Gupka, Horgan and Schmid 2010; Singer 1995; Yarmysh 2001; Young 2004). They may also use manipulative and intimidating tactics to establish their authority and maintain a position of power (Bucy et al. 2008; Lingnau, Fuchs and Dehne-Niemann 2017). Criminal leadership can take many forms, ranging from leaders of gangs and criminal organizations to individuals who run drug trafficking operations or money laundering rings (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b).

Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

Table 1 presents the inclusion and exclusion criteria used to select the works considered in our review. An exploratory study was necessary to identify the relevant literature. The inclusion criteria were broad and included all studies with potential links to the topic under study (Rutter et al. 2013). Exclusion criteria were defined to limit the number of studies to be considered in depth while maximizing the relevance of the content of those retained. We followed a two-step process that began with collection of studies retrieved under the inclusion criteria and then applied the exclusion criteria. Although we recognize the importance of all the literature on the topic, the established exclusion criteria made it possible to identify a more homogeneous set of studies that were relevant to the analysis axis and the research questions. First, we excluded studies that were not published in English. This largely involved excluding research published in Russian (e.g., Russian Journal of Criminology/Всероссийский криминологический журнал), Spanish, and French. Second, we limited the selection based on time of publication, excluding studies published before 1960. This choice was made because the topic has undergone important evolution since that time. Third, we excluded scientific material that had not been peer-reviewed (e.g., conference proceedings, websites, etc.). Fourth, we excluded topics that, while related to our study, were too far from the original research question (e.g., study of victimization in the military, victims’ perceptions of their leaders, leaders of state crimes, leaders of crimes against humanity/war crimes). Finally, we excluded legal commentaries as well as legal studies related to the topic. A significant portion of the literature on the topic is focused on the legal framework for condemning or better controlling criminal leaders, particularly in white-collar crimes and, although important, this literature was felt to be too far outside the objectives of this study.

[Insert Table 1 about here]

Following the SCIE: Systematic Research Reviews: Guidelines (Rutter et al. 2013), exclusion criteria were then applied to studies that reached the eligibility phase (n = 118). Inclusion and quality criteria (detailed below) were then applied, resulting in the final selection of studies that met all inclusion criteria (n = 71).

Search Strategy

The search strategy focused on identifying relevant academic works in several databases – PubMed, Scopus, Web of Science, and PsycInfo – with the final selection

imported on April 7, 2023. The following search terms were applied across all databases: Crime/Criminal*Organization/Criminal*Network and Leader/Leadership/Boss/Management/Governance/Headship/Chief/Manager. These search terms and their combination made it possible to identify a comprehensive set of literature that was appropriate to the research questions. The use of Boolean operators as well as truncation made it possible to expand the search (Rutter et al. 2013). Other search strategies included a manual search of abstracts as well as a manual review of results from GoogleScholar using the previously mentioned terms. All studies were screened based on inclusion and exclusion criteria (Table 1). Figure 1 represents the PRISMA diagram schematizing the attrition process of the search strategy, results, and application of inclusion and exclusion criteria.

[Insert Figure 1 about here]

Quality Appraisal

The quality of the selected research was evaluated based on the SCIE: Systematic Research Reviews: Guidelines (Rutter et al. 2013), using two main criteria: 1) the relevance of the study to the review topic, 2) the appropriateness of the study design to address the research question (Rutter et al. 2013). Each study was meticulously examined to ensure its relevance to with the central theme of leadership dynamics within criminal organizations, alongside a critical appraisal of its methodological rigor. Emphasis was placed on identifying studies that either directly engaged with the nuances of leadership roles and their impact within such organizations or significantly contributed to broadening our conceptual understanding of leadership phenomena in this unique context. For the empirical studies, the assessment criteria revolved around the clarity and appropriateness of the research design, the transparency of data collection and analysis procedures, and adherence to ethical research practices. This evaluation aimed to ensure that the selected studies were not only methodologically sound but also conducted in an ethically responsible manner, free from bias. Additionally, theoretical contributions, despite lacking empirical methodologies, were deemed essential for inclusion. These works were selected based on their potential to offer profound theoretical insights or novel conceptual frameworks relevant to the study of criminal leadership. The value of these theoretical perspectives lies in their capacity to enrich the empirical findings and to provide a deeper understanding of leadership within criminal contexts. This meticulous approach to study selection was instrumental in developing a scientifically robust review, ensuring that the included studies met stringent criteria for relevance and methodological integrity, thereby facilitating a comprehensive and insightful exploration of leadership within criminal organizations.

Synthesis of Findings

The final set (n=71) is composed of articles that present the results of a quantitative or qualitative empirical study, detail case studies, or discuss relevant theoretical propositions. Results of each study were extracted, tabulated in a grid, and analyzed following the principles of narrative synthesis (Lisy and Porritt 2016; Popay et al. 2006), which make it possible to structure and order the results to ensure that important trends are adequately described. The data from each article was organized thematically with respect to the objectives of our literature review and the description of the results was structured accordingly (Braun and Clarke 2006; Braun and Clarke 2012; Guest, MacQueen and Namey 2011). Three themes and eight sub-themes were identified (see Table 2). The first theme, based on the examination of 29 studies, was titled Individual factors associated with leaders and leadership in crime and divided into three sub-themes: Behavioral factors of criminal leadership, Psychosocial factors of criminal leadership, and Gender and leadership in crime. The second theme, based on analysis of 25 papers, was titled Leadership in criminal organization: A managerial approach and divided into four sub-themes: Hierarchy, Leadership and criminal organization, Choice of leaders in criminal organizations, Distribution of leadership in criminal organizations, and The role of leaders in criminal organizations. Finally, the last theme, based on the analysis of 21 studies, was Leadership decapitation: effects and prevention with two sub-themes: The leadership decapitation effect, and Leader protection and decapitation effect prevention.

[Insert Table 2 about here]


Individual factors associated with leaders and leadership in crime

Twenty-nine studies dealt with the factors that distinguish individuals who demonstrated leadership in a criminal context.

Behavioral Factors of Criminal Leadership

Leadership is often characterized as the ability of certain individuals to change the behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions of others to enlist them in a common enterprise aimed at achieving convergent goals (Dipboye, Smith and Howell 1994). Only a small set of leadership studies has looked at the behavioral markers of leadership in a criminal context. In a case study analysis, Cloward and Ohlin (1960) suggest that leadership in the context of organized crime is marked by avoidance of impulsive and unpredictable behaviors. Following the same approach, Geis (1966) noted that the attitude of leaders in criminal organizations is halfway between exhibiting strategic competence and resorting to coercive or aggressive tactics. This suggests that effective leadership within such contexts requires a combination of tactical proficiency and assertiveness, as leaders must adeptly manage both the complexities of criminal operations and the challenges of maintaining authority within their organizations. It is only more recently that empirical work, initiated by Porter and Alison (2001), has suggested improvements to this behavioral approach. Study of 120 offenders from 39 gangs involved in sexual assaults in Norway allowed them to develop a Scale of Influence, which makes it possible to distinguish leaders from followers. Specifically, the measurement was conducted based on the characteristics of the cases that were coded by the researchers. The information from these cases was derived from the evidence presented in court.The scale is divided into six items related to the involvement of each gang member during the assaults: initial idea, selection, approach, sexual acts, decision of disposal, and disposal. Each of these behaviors is scored, with the highest scores given to the decision to commit the crime (i.e., initial idea phase) or to order other members to commit the behaviors related to the other phases. The lowest scores are related to compliance with orders – the behavior of followers. The results indicate that the scale correctly classified leaders and followers in 37 of the 39 gangs (i.e., 94.87%) but did not provide information on how the six dimensions were involved in this determination (Porter and Alison 2001). The empirical validity of this Scale of Influence has been tested in several subsequent studies. Porter and Alison (2006) studied a group of 290 individuals involved in robberies and correctly identified 103 of 105 leaders (98.10%). Similarly, a study by Woodhams et al. (2012), based on a sample of 256 sexual offenders involved in 95 multiple perpetrator rapes in the UK, used Porter and Alison’s Scale of Influence and were able to correctly classify 80% of the leaders in their sample. An additional measure of leadership has been proposed by Woodhams et al. (2012) based on examination of each offender’s verbal behavior, particularly the use of directives by co-offenders. This method correctly classified 66% of the sample. Finally, when these two methods were combined, it was found that 89% of the sample was correctly classified as leaders or followers (Woodhams et al. 2012). Porter and Alison (2005) described the orders, decisions, and actions of 37 gang leaders (i.e., sample previously used in Porter and Alison 2001) with the objective of qualifying the level of leadership more accurately by looking at combinations of three behaviors – decision, order, action – to gauge the level of influence they exert on their followers. The results highlighted two pathways involving 1) instructions to others to act on ideas presented by the leader, and 2) the leader’s involvement in the early stages of the crime in providing guidance to followers (Porter and Alison 2005). Hart-Kerkhoffs et al. (2011) used a sample of 89 adolescent group sex offenders to compare the behaviors of leaders and followers. They found that leaders were less likely to use physical force, a result that might reflect either the higher likelihood that followers would be involved in stressful situations or perhaps that leaders were less likely to report that they had committed violence (Hart-Kerkhoffs et al. 2011).

Psychosocial Factors

Several studies focused on the links between psychological characteristics and leadership in crime, examining leadership in the context of terrorism (Gupka, Horgan and Schmid 2010; Jasko and LaFree 2020; Miller 2006; Singer 1995; Strentz 1988; van Leeuwen and Weggemans 2018; Young 2004), white-collar crimes (Arnulf and Gottschalk 2013; Benson and Simpson 2014; Bucy et al. 2008; Kolthoff 2016; Lingnau, Fuchs and Dehne-Niemann 2017), group sexual offending (Hart-Kerkhoffs et al. 2011), and organized crime (Bovenkerk 2000). The study of leaders in terrorist organizations, based on comparisons of leaders and followers or leaders and the general population, revealed the significant presence of narcissistic, paranoid, and egocentric personality traits (Arnulf and Gottschalk 2013; Miller 2006; Strentz 1988). Terrorist leaders tend to be persuasive, charismatic, and dominant and to exercise power alone (Gupka, Horgan and Schmid 2010; Singer 1995; Young 2004), personality traits that have been shown to be important in attracting, controlling, and managing followers (Gupka, Horgan and Schmid 2010; Singer 1995; Young 2004). Hart-Kerkhoffs et al. (2011), who studied leaders in the context of group sexual assaults, found that they reported more emotional problems (i.e., loneliness, depression, feelings of emptiness) than followers. They hypothesize that these feelings may reflect leaders’ greater ability to understand the legal consequences of their actions (Hart-Kerkhoffs et al. (2011). Bovenkerk (2000) looked at whether leaders in non-criminal contexts had the same personality traits as those in criminal contexts such as the Mafia. Using the Five Factor Personality Model, he found that personality traits that predict leadership success in legal businesses (neuroticism, extraversion, openness, agreeableness, and conscientiousness) are also found in the criminal context while extraversion, controlled impulsivity, adventurousness, megalomania, and narcissistic personality disorders were particularly common among Mafia leaders. Finally, a series of studies examined the personality characteristics of leaders involved in white-collar crimes. Several studies found that leaders in white-collar crimes often have psychopathic personality profiles (Bucy et al. 2008; Lingnau, Fuchs and Dehne-Niemann 2017), which, in both criminal and non-criminal contexts, include characteristics such as visionary, motivated, influential, persuasive, energetic, able to control emotions, and self-confident (see Babiak 1996). Psychopathy and narcissistic personality traits were found to be related to various forms of white-collar crime (e.g., fraud, insider trading, antitrust violations, etc., Bucy et al. 2008; Lingnau, Fuchs and Dehne-Niemann 2017), while behaviors such as control-seeking, over-ambition, admiration-seeking, manipulation, and exploitation were often observed in leaders in white-collar crimes (Babiak and Hare 2007; Benson and Simpson 2014; Bucy et al. 2008; Kolthoff 2016; Lingnau, Fuchs and Dehne-Niemann 2017).

Gender and Leadership in Crime

Although men are more likely to be leaders of different types of criminal organizations, women have been found to take the role of leader in some criminal enterprises (Allum and Marchi 2018; Gottschalk 2020; Requena et al. 2014; Siegel 2014), which has lead to questions as to how women are able to attain leadership positions in criminal organizations. Several studies point to the importance of opportunism and context, particularly in Mafia enterprises and, more globally, in organized crime, with women either temporarily or permanently assuming a leadership position following the incarceration or death of their leader spouses (Gottschalk 2020; Siegel 2014). Whether there has been a societal shift in criminal organizations towards greater parity in governing structures has been examined (Benson and Gottschalk 2015; Gottschalk 2020; Siegel 2014) but findings tend to confirm opportunistic paths to leadership for women in white-collar crime (also referred to as pink-collar crime) and in the Mafia (Allum and Marchi 2018; Benson and Gottschalk 2015; Gottschalk 2020). Other studies found that women tend to be ‘deputy’ leaders in criminal organizations or to fill in for the leader in his absence (Requena et al. 2014; Savona and Natoli 2007). It is important to note, however, that some specific criminal activities were identified as regularly led by women, such as large-scale human trafficking from Africa (i.e., Nigeria and Ghana) (Siegel 2014; Siegel and De Blank 2010) in which women plan operations, take initiatives, and fulfill all the leadership tasks associated with developing this type of criminal network (Siegel 2014).

Leadership in criminal organizations: A managerial approach

Several studies focused on how leadership was conducted in criminal organizations. We identified 25 articles that dealt with this topic.

Hierarchy, leadership, and criminal organizations

Several studies looked at the transposition of general concepts dealing with leaders and leadership to a criminal context, particularly the role of entrepreneurship and hierarchy, focusing on criminal organizations involved in organized crime (Calderoni, Brunetto and Piccardi 2017; Calderoni and Superchi 2019; Spapens and Moors 2020; Von Lampe and Blokland 2020; Yarmysh 2001), white-collar crime (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b; Gottschalk 2011; Gottschalk and Smith 2011), and cybercrime (Broadhurst et al. 2014; Lusthaus 2018; Nguyen and Luong 2021). Yarmysh (2001) studied the structure and functioning of Ukrainian groups involved in organized crime, using a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods, and found that criminal groups act like other social organizations and are characterized by the common features of goals, interactions between individuals, managerial structure, and leadership. His results show that the goals of criminal organizations are determined by leaders and are fundamental in determining the organizational structure and management of the behavior of member-followers (Yarmysh 2001). Goal achievement was, as in non-criminal organizations, strongly associated with management style (Dishman 2005; Drejer, Christensen and Ulhoi 2004; Yarmysh 2001). Broadhurst et al. (2014) confirmed some of these previous results, suggesting that in the context of organized cybercrime, the level of leadership in organizations is dependent on the goal pursued. Others have found that profit-oriented organizations require a high level of leadership while organizations interested in ideological political protest were characterized by a low level of leadership and minimal chain of command (Broadhurst et al. 2014).

The Choice of Leaders in Criminal Organization

Leaders may be chosen or elected (e.g., outlaw motorcycle clubs) from among the members of a criminal organization based on their charisma, skills, and involvement in how members of the group are chosen (Carley, Lee and Krackhardt 2002; Morselli 2009; Von Lampe and Blokland 2020; Yarmysh 2001). Spapens and Moors (2020), influenced by studies showing intergenerational transmission of delinquency, explored the phenomenon of intergenerational transmission of criminal leadership, analyzing seven family-based criminal groups involved in drug trafficking in the Netherlands. They found intergenerational transmission of leadership in two out of the seven families but argue that such transmission is difficult to implement outside classic mafia-type organizations, which are based on culture more than on individuals’ skills (Spapens and Moors (2020). In the context of white-collar crime committed within the framework of initially non-criminal enterprises, designating a successor is unusual Those in leadership positions in criminal activities were also often those who had responsibilities for the non-criminal activities of the companies (Gottschalk 2011). Top executives thus have the most power to prevent and fight involvement in crime but are also most at risk of becoming involved in it (Gottschalk 2011). In some terrorist organizations, leaders were often self-appointed (Gupka, Horgan and Schmid 2010; Singer 1995; Young 2004).

Distribution of Leadership in Criminal Organization

The work of Gottschalk and his colleagues examines the role of leadership in criminal and legal contexts (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b; Gottschalk and Smith 2011) and highlight the importance of leadership in criminal organizations, particularly in the context of white-collar crime (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b; Gottschalk 2011; Gottschalk and Smith 2011). According to their analysis, leadership duties such as managing liaisons, monitoring and managing networks, dealing with group orientation, and handling financial management are even more important in criminal organizations than in non-criminal organizations due to the risks associated with illegal activities (e.g., interference from law enforcement agencies, competing criminal groups, etc.) (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b). Several studies have looked at hierarchy in criminal organizations and proposed typologies. The most commonly used is that suggested by the United Nations (2002), which divides criminal organizations into five categories depending on leadership model. The first category, Rigid Hierarchy, includes criminal organizations in which there is a single leader and a highly vertical pattern of leadership distribution. Such organizations have a strong discipline system (e.g., Sizranskaya Groopirovska, Russia). The second category, Developed hierarchy, is characteristic of criminal organizations with a hierarchical command structure and autonomous structures with their own leaders who manage day-to-day operations (e.g., Cosa Nostra, Italy). The third category, Hierarchical conglomerate, includes organizations with a single governing body (e.g., Arellano-Felix, Mexico). The fourth category, Core criminal groups, includes organizations with a limited level of leadership and a horizontal distribution of powers (e.g., Juvenal group in Colombia). Finally, Organized criminal networks are groups of individuals who share skills. They do not see themselves as constituting a separate entity but as part of a series of alliances in a network that make it possible to share skills and capital. Leadership in this category does not exist or is distributed horizontally (e.g., Verhagen Group, Deutschland) (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b; United Nations 2002). Dishman (2005) proposed that terrorist organizations can be divided into three categories according to level of leadership. In the first, groups have a hierarchical structure in which there is a clearly defined leader who delegates his authority to subordinates. The second has a decentralized cell structure, such as that in networked terrorist organizations, in which the level of leadership is distributed among different leaders. Finally, organizations with leaderless resistance have no leadership structure (Dishman 2005). In the context of cybercrime, McGuire (2012) proposed a classification for criminal groups based on targets (online, both online and offline, offline), the level of leadership, and the amount of organization. For organizations that focus on online targets, he distinguished between swarms – online activities that occur spontaneously but are connected by a common purpose and have a low level of leadership ­– and hubs – directed, purposeful online criminal activity among core groups connected to a wider range of criminal associates ­ and involving a clear hierarchical structure. In organizations associated with both online and offline targets, McGuire (2012) identified hybrid clusters, which are focused on specific criminal activities, locations, and/or methods and have a higher level of structure, and leadership and extended hybrids, which lack an obvious central focus. These groups are associated with multiple and highly complex flows of criminal activity that has a relatively high level of disorganization. Finally, in criminal organizations that focus on offline targets, he distinguishes between aggregates (street gangs, burglars who operate in the digital environment), which have a less developed vertical hierarchical structure than hierarchies (the traditional structure often assumed to exist in crime families, businesses, and government).(McGuire 2012). Nguyen and Luong (2021) tested McGuire’s typology and found that it could not be used with transnational computer fraud networks. They therefore proposed a new empirical typology based on the level and structure of leadership in a network. Type I – Swarm networks operating freely without any leadership – show an absence of leadership and are found, for example, in the first stage of development of hacking forum networks. Type II – Distributed networks with unclear leadership – have a flat structure with one or a few focused actors who have many connections but no agreed-upon leaders. Type III – Single-directed networks organized and led by one leader – are made up of small groups. Finally, Type IV – Group-directed networks organized and managed by a core subgroup of leaders – are large groups in which members, having recognized that they cannot conduct an activity alone, develop a core subgroup of leaders who operate either with an equal distribution of management or in a hierarchical structure (Nguyen and Luong 2021).

Role of Leaders in Criminal Organization

Several studies examined the role of leaders in criminal organizations. Gottschalk and colleagues (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b) adapted the typology developed by Karlsen et al. (2007) for the police in the context of organized crime. They identified six distinct roles that leaders of criminal organizations may take. The first, personal leader, involves supervising, recruiting, training, and motivating personnel who will then work to fulfill the organization’s goals and is exemplified by the role terrorist leaders have in preventing members from abandoning a group or defecting to other terrorist factions (Crenshaw 2001). The second role is that of resource allocator, who decides how to allocate human, financial, technical, and information resources and ensures that the resources needed are available, a role observed in Mafia organizations (Calderoni, Brunetto and Piccardi 2017). The third role is that of spokesperson, an internal networking role that provides a link to the rest of the organization, making it possible to optimize the coordination of actions to pursue common objectives. This role has been identified in Mafia organizations in particular, with the leaders acting as intermediaries between communities and managing the flow of information (Calderoni, Brunetto and Piccardi 2017). The fourth role is that of entrepreneur, a problem-solving role in which the leader must identify the needs of the organization and develop solutions to meet them as well as determining priority goals for the organization and managing the group’s criminal activity accordingly. This role echoes the findings of Yarmish (2001), who found that leaders of organized crime groups in the Ukraine were responsible for defining the goals of the organization and regulating the behaviors of members. Maras et al. (2022) note that in the dark web leaders are those who create content, facilitate the sharing of material/content, and play a role in influencing the market (Maras et al. 2022). The fifth role is liaising. In this context leaders develop interfaces with consumers, other criminal organizations in the same market, and any entities (e.g., law enforcement) that may interfere with the business under development (e.g., corrupting authorities). Calderoni and his colleagues (Calderoni and Superchi 2019; Calderoni 2015) focused on this aspect, showing the importance of meetings for Mafia leaders. Network analyses showed that participation in face-to-face meetings is a fundamental role of such leaders and a clear indicator of leadership status that makes it possible them to negotiate with other leaders and foster the development of new criminal opportunities (Calderoni and Superchi 2019; Calderoni 2015). The last role is gate-keeping, in which the goal is to protect the members of a criminal organization and limit external pressure (i.e., to restrict the impact of police operations on the organization’s criminal activities (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b).

Leadership Decapitation: Effects and Prevention

Twenty-one articles focused on the phenomenon known as leadership decapitation or kingpin strike, a strategy based on removing the leader(s) at the head of a group from that position (Burke 2023; Calderón et al. 2015; Calderón, Rodríguez Ferreira and Shirk 2018; Calderoni and Superchi 2019; Calderoni 2012; Caulkins, Burnett and Leslie 2009; Dickenson 2014; Dorn, Oette and White 1998; Eldar 2012; Faulkner and Baker 1993; Felbab-Brown 2010; Gambetta 1996; Guerrero Gutierrez 2011; Hofmann and Gallupe 2015; Jones et al. 2020; Natarajan 2006; Phillips 2015; Reuter 2009; Vargas 2014). This strategy, used by law enforcement and/or competing criminal organizations, assumes that the leadership structure at the top of a criminal organization is critical to the survival of the organization and that its removal will automatically lead to the demise of the organization. Studies have examined the effects of decapitating leadership on criminal organizations and on the criminal marketplace, while other studies have looked at the strategies used by leaders to prevent the leadership structure from being compromised.

The Leadership Decapitation Effect

This strategy is based on the idea that leaders have specific skills and profiles that are difficult to replace (Burke 2023; Natarajan 2006). Studies that tested the effectiveness of this strategy reported varying results depending on type of criminal organization and context. In a recent study, Burke (2023), using data related to drug trafficking in Chicago between 2010 and 2019, showed that the arrest of the leaders of drug networks led to a decrease in inter-gang violence. These results partially confirmed Phillips (2015) hypothesis that the positive effects of leadership removal are temporary and that arresting leaders is more effective than killing them. Several studies found that such strategies may have negative consequences. In a study examining the impact of military operations against drug cartels in Mexico in which 25 leaders and 160 lieutenants were arrested or killed, researchers found that drug-related violence increased by 300% and also spread to the general population (Calderón et al. 2015). Dickenson (2014), in a similar context, found a significant increase in violence following leaders being killed. He notes, however, that the increase was more limited when leaders were removed as result of a $30m peso bounty (Dickenson 2014).

Several causes have been suggested for the increase in violence associated with leadership removal strategies. First, such strategies can lead to the fragmentation of criminal organizations, significantly affecting the market balance and leading to violence within and between organizations (Calderón, Rodríguez Ferreira and Shirk 2018; Guerrero Gutierrez 2011). This approach, known as the hydra effect, is a phenomenon in which the ‘decapitation’ of a large organization leads to the emergence of multiple small, disorganized structures that then fight for a position in a redistributed market, leading to an upsurge in violence (Bertram et al. 1996; Calderón et al. 2015). The second cause, which is seldom described, involves the replacement of experienced leaders by younger individuals who are neophytes in the management of criminal organizations (Felbab-Brown 2010). Lack of skills and a predisposition to engage in violent behavior is then conducive to increased violence (Felbab-Brown 2010). The third stategy assumes that the redistribution of markets following the removal of a leader leads to a diversification in the criminal activities of other organizations, which is then associated with an increase in violence as a way to protect these new markets. (Gambetta 1996; Reuter 2009). Finally, in some contexts, the appointment of a new leader takes place quickly, making it possible for the business to continue without interruption (Vargas 2014)

Leader Protection and Decapitation Effect Prevention

Recognizing that leaders of criminal organizations can be targeted by law enforcement agencies or by rivals, a small number of studies have focused on how leaders, and hierarchical structures in general, protect themselves from external threats. Researchers have found that leaders are often kept out of the the operational activities of criminal organizations as a way to limit their visibility (Calderoni 2012; Dorn, Oette and White 1998; Eldar 2012). In a study based on a network analysis of the ’Ndrangheta (a mafia in Calabria), leaders were not the organization members most involved in criminal activities (Calderoni 2012). Calderoni (2012) notes that such a strategy allows for effective management of criminal activities while limiting the risk of identification by police. Calderoni and Superchi (2019) found that leaders of the ‘Ndrangheta limited the use of cell phones and preferred face-to-face meetings, helping to decrease their security risks. Criminal organizations can also be structured so that contact between those in the upper levels of the hierarchical structure and those engaged in more dangerous activities is limited (Caulkins, Burnett and Leslie 2009; Hofmann and Gallupe 2015). Reseearchers have also found that the activities of criminal organizations are often compartmentalized, increasing the buffers between the different operational structures of the organizations and reducing the risk that leaders will become involved in more dangerous activities (Faulkner and Baker 1993; Hofmann and Gallupe 2015). Finally, some organizations are structured so that the riskiest activities are delegated to members whose contact with the leader/s is limited (Faulkner and Baker 1993).


Understanding leaders and leadership in criminal activities is important to understanding criminal organizations. Meticulous analysis of the different research materials dealing with this topic showed that, in most situations, the topic of leadership in crime was a secondary theme or the secondary results of a more global analysis. The objective of this scoping review of the literature was to provide a more complete understanding of this topic through examination of all available relevant information. We focused on studies that used empirical methods but, under certain conditions, also considered theoretical articles. The literature review was structured around 3 main questions: 1) What are the characteristics of criminal leaders? 2) How is leadership implemented in criminal organizations? 3) Are leaders essential to criminal organizations? Thematic analysis made it posssible to identify subthemes that allowed an in-depth analysis of the phenomenon.

Leadership or Leaderships? Heterogeneity in the Fundamentals of Managing Criminal Activities

The results of this study made it possible to examine the concept of leadership in crime from different perspectives and revealed a number of parallels in the leadership structures of criminal organizations and those of non-criminal organizations. Like all social organizations, criminal organizations are regulated by a set of rules based on the pursuit of common objectives that are attainable through interactions between individuals. The achievement of these objectives often relies on developing a managerial architecture to ensure the leadership necessary for the successful conduct of criminal activities (Dishman 2005; Drejer, Christensen and Ulhoi 2004; Yarmysh 2001) but the resulting forms of leadership often vary, depending on the goals being pursued (Broadhurst et al. 2014; Yarmysh 2001). This finding is congruent with the situational leadership paradigm applied to non-criminal organizations (Conger and Kanungo 1998; Conger and Kanungo 1987; Conger and Kanungo 1994). Studies report management techniques that range on a continuum from democratic decision-making to a fully authoritarian style, with several studies suggesting that profit-driven criminal activities require strong, structured leadership, while ideological criminal activities require a lower level of leadership (Broadhurst et al. 2014; Yarmysh 2001). The heterogeneous nature of leadership in criminal activities is reflected in the typologies developed for organized crime entities (Dishman 2005; McGuire 2012; Nguyen and Luong 2021; United Nations 2002), which show a continuum from a vertical hierarchy involving a single leader to organizations with a horizontal leadership structure or no executive structure (Dishman 2005; McGuire 2012; Nguyen and Luong 2021; United Nations 2002). While the level of leadership in the middle range of the continuum varies according to the type of criminal organizations being studied, the leadership continuum is consistently observed. This parallels findings regarding the structures of non-criminal organizations, which also show great heterogeneity in their leadership structures (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b).

Some studies focused on the different roles of leaders or leadership structures in criminal organizations and found that, although adapted to the criminal context, they differ little from those in non-criminal organizations (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b). The general managerial roles of finding and managing resources, managing individuals and relationships between different entities within the organization, identifying the needs and objectives of the organization, managing external relationships, and protecting the interests of the organization are all roles associated with leadership, whether in criminal organizations (Gottschalk 2008a; Gottschalk 2008b) or non-criminal, and have often been studied in relation to different types of organized crime (e.g., white-collar crime, drug trafficking, terrorism, mafia, cybercrime, etc.) (e.g., Calderoni, Brunetto and Piccardi 2017; Crenshaw 2001; Gottschalk 2008b; Maras et al. 2022; Yarmysh 2001). The presence of various management styles is congruent with the transformational and transactional leadership perspectives observed in the non-criminal context (Dinibutun 2020).

Leadership in criminal activities: A specific position for specific individuals?

Leadership is defined as the ability to change the behaviors, attitudes, and perceptions of others in order to achieve a common enterprise or convergent goals (Dipboye, Smith and Howell 1994). In the non-criminal context, several studies have highlighted the importance of individual and behavioral characteristics that allow leaders to act efficiently (Daft 2018; Den Hartog and Koopman 2001). In the criminal context, leadership is associated with a number of individual characteristics. First, certain behavioral aspects have been identified. Leaders have long been recognized as individuals who are neither impulsive nor unpredictable and maintain a position halfway between skillful and violent (Cloward and Ohlin 1960; Geis 1966). The relationship of criminal leaders to violence has been the subject of recent studies, which suggest that leaders tend to be less directly involved in violence and criminal activities than those under their authority (Calderoni 2012; Hart-Kerkhoffs et al. 2011). Leaders and followers can also be distinguished through analysis of individual behavior in different phases of criminal activity: involvement in the decision-making process and being responsible for issuing orders and directives during the different phases of the crime have been shown to be valuable indicators that distinguish leaders from followers (Porter and Alison 2005; Porter and Alison 2006; Porter and Alison 2001; Woodhams et al. 2012). Second, our review identified a number of personality traits associated with leadership. Criminal leaders, like non-criminal leaders, are characterized by extraversion, controlled impulsivity, a sense of adventure, megalomania, charisma, dominance, narcissistic, paranoid, and egocentric personality disorders (Arnulf and Gottschalk 2013; Bovenkerk 2000; Gupka, Horgan and Schmid 2010; Miller 2006; Singer 1995; Strentz 1988; Young 2004). The over-representation of psychopathic profiles among criminal leaders, particularly in white-collar crime contexts, was also observed, with such individuals seeking control, admiration, and recognition from others (Babiak and Hare 2007; Benson and Simpson 2014; Bucy et al. 2008; Kolthoff 2016; Lingnau, Fuchs and Dehne-Niemann 2017). As in the non-criminal context, these characteristics increase the ability of individuals to attract, control, and manage followers more effectively in order to achieve the goals of the criminal organization (Gupka, Horgan and Schmid 2010; Singer 1995; Young 2004). Emotional problems (i.e., loneliness, depression, feelings of emptiness) were found to be over-represented among leaders, which may reflect isolation resulting from the position of leader as well as a better understanding of the risks involved in criminal activity (Hart-Kerkhoffs et al. 2011).

Criminal Activity and Leadership: A Contextual Adaptation

While our review found that leadership in crime has similarities to that in the non-criminal context, the criminal context is a distinct environment, with specific constraints, risks, and limitations. This is particularly apparent in the ‘leader decapitation’ phenomenon, where studies suggest that the very nature of criminal activities results in high risks for the leaders of these organizations, who are the literal and figurative ‘targets for elimination’ by their competitors or law enforcement agencies (Burke 2023; Calderón et al. 2015; Dickenson 2014; Jones et al. 2020; Phillips 2015). Disabling a leader can disrupt the criminal market and lead to significant waves of violence (Calderón et al. 2015; Dickenson 2014). Criminal leaders must take specific measures, both individual and structural, to address the risks they face (Calderoni and Superchi 2019; Caulkins, Burnett and Leslie 2009; Hofmann and Gallupe 2015). Individual measures involve the implementation of strategies directly focused on the leader, such as limiting personal involvement in criminal activities or avoiding dissemination of evidence (e.g., limiting the use of telephone communications) (Calderoni and Superchi 2019; Calderoni 2012; Dorn, Oette and White 1998; Eldar 2012), while structural measures are designed to avoid a leader being publicly associated with the various activities of the organization to which they belong through management strategies such as compartmentalizing activities or delegating activities that involve greater risks (Caulkins, Burnett and Leslie 2009; Faulkner and Baker 1993; Hofmann and Gallupe 2015). Finally, criminal organizations differ from non-criminal organizations in how leaders are determined. The leaders of many types of criminal networks are either self-appointed or appointed based on their blood ties to previous leaders or their charisma (Gupka, Horgan and Schmid 2010; Singer 1995; Young 2004). In the context of white-collar crime and some organizations involved in organized crime, the choice of leader is made on the basis of competence and/or election (Gottschalk 2011; Von Lampe and Blokland 2020). Our review found that there has been almost no evolution in the role of women in the hierarchical structures of criminal organizations, where they remain almost nonexistent (Allum and Marchi 2018; Gottschalk 2020; Requena et al. 2014; Siegel 2014). Except in specific areas (e.g., human trafficking; (Siegel 2014) women are confined to the role of followers, altthough in some cases act as substitutes for leaders (Gottschalk 2020; Siegel 2014) who are temporarily absent (e.g., incarcerated, unable to be presentt).


Our review, the first to look at the role of leadership in crime, was structured to gather relevant information about the characteristics of criminal leaders, the different hierarchical structures observed in criminal organizations, and the risks incurred by leaders of criminal organizations. Our results make it possible to consider points of convergence and divergence with leadership in non-criminal organizations and suggest that while many of the fundamentals in the leadership concept are transversal, the criminal context creates certain constraints that affect leaders and, more generally, the hierarchical structure, as they attempt to cope with the important risks created by criminal activity.

Our study has theoretical implications for the general paradigms of leadership. First, many of the paradigms developed in a non-criminal context seem to be applicable in a criminal context, with similar trends in terms of leadership, management of organizations, and the role of leader. While it might initially appear that the core principles regulating social interactions within an organization remain consistent across criminal and non-criminal contexts, a deeper examination reveals the distinctive challenges inherent in illegal enterprises. The intricacies of engaging in illicit activities necessitate the establishment of tailored parameters to navigate the complex environment shaped by the constraints imposed by law enforcement and the competitive landscape with other criminal entities. In contrast to lawful enterprises, where operations typically adhere to regulatory frameworks and societal norms, criminal organizations operate within a clandestine realm characterized by secrecy, deception, and the constant threat of intervention by law enforcement agencies. Consequently, specific parameters must be devised to mitigate the risks associated with illegal ventures and ensure the sustained functioning and profitability of criminal enterprises. These parameters encompass a range of considerations, including strategic planning to evade law enforcement detection, the establishment of robust communication networks to facilitate covert operations, and mechanisms to maintain cohesion and loyalty among members amidst the ever-present threat of betrayal. Additionally, effective resource management strategies are essential to optimize profitability while minimizing exposure to risks such as asset seizure or financial losses resulting from internal corruption. The constraints governing the criminal environment are manifold and extend beyond the immediate threat of arrest. Internal challenges include maintaining discipline among members, resolving conflicts within the organization, and managing hierarchical structures to prevent power struggles or internal discord. Externally, criminal enterprises must contend with the persistent pressure exerted by law enforcement agencies seeking to disrupt their activities, as well as competition from rival groups vying for control of lucrative markets or territories. While the risk of arrest looms large, it represents just one facet of the multifaceted risks confronting criminal organizations. The threat of violence from rival factions, the potential for betrayal by associates seeking leniency, and the destabilizing effects of law enforcement interventions all contribute to the volatile and unpredictable nature of the criminal landscape. Second, leadership remains a protean phenomenon that would benefit from further analysis, not only from the perspective of organizations (macroanalysis) but also in terms of the characteristics of the individuals who fill such positions (microanalysis), as well as in relation to the different goals pursued. Such a multi-theoretical analysis would encourage greater understanding of this complex phenomena (Agnew 2011).

The limitations of this study are associated with the nature of the studies reviewed, some of which are based on case studies or theoretical commentaries. Although inclusion of these studies allowed us to increase our understanding of the phenomenon, it necessarily limits the reliability and scope of some of the results. The studies included in the review often dealt with leadership as a secondary element in a more general study of criminal organizations.

Future studies should use empirical methods to test certain concepts or replicate existing studies to increase the strength and the reliability of results. It is important that the work of comparison with non-criminal organizations and between different types of criminal organizations be continued as this avenue of research could increase our understanding of criminal organizations. Finally, better understanding leaders requires understanding followers, who by their existence and their work justify the existence of leaders. The studies in our survey provide no information on this topic, leaving the field open to future researchers.


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Tables and Figures

Table 1. Inclusion and exclusion criteria






Dates of publication

1960 - May 2023


Type of materials

Scientific article

Conference proceedings

Book chapter




All types of crime involving leaders or a criminal leadership process.

Criminal or victimization situations involving non-criminal leaders or leadership process.

Leader and leadership of crimes against humanity / war crimes

Leader and leadership of state crime

Types of studies

Empirical studies (both quantitative and qualitative methods)


Clinical studies

Legal analysis

Theoretical studies

Historical studies

Figure 1. PRISMA flow diagram outlining the number of studies identified, screened, and deemed eligible or ineligible at each stage of the review process.

Table 2. Summary of main results

Individual Factors Associated with leaders and leadership in crime

Behavioral Factors

- Leaders avoid behaviors that could compromise their position.

- Preference for calculated actions over impulsive reactions.

- Tendency to delegate acts of violence.

Psychosocial Factors

- Presence of personality traits such as narcissism and charisma.

- Ability to manipulate others' perceptions.

- Utilization of persuasion to reinforce their power position.

Gender and Leadership

- Predominance of male leadership in criminal contexts.

- Female leadership roles often linked to exceptional circumstances.

- Distinct capabilities and approaches observed in female leaders.

Leadership in criminal organizations: A managerial approach

Hierarchy, Leadership, and Criminal Organizations

- Existence of a clearly defined hierarchical structure.

- Leaders establish and communicate objectives.

- Adaptation of management styles to the specific context of the organization.

The Choice of Leaders

- Selection based on personal charisma and strategic skills.

- Election or nomination influenced by prior achievements.

- Importance of loyalty and trust in leader selection.

Distribution of Leadership

- Organizational structure variability based on objectives and activities.

- Existence of decentralized networks for certain operations.

- Shared or centralized leadership depending on tactical needs.

Role of Leaders

- Strategic orientation and critical decision-making

- Management of resources, including human and financial.

- Protection of the organization against internal and external threats.

- Promotion of organizational cohesion and culture.

Leadership Decapitation: Effects and Prevention

The Leadership Decapitation Effect

- Loss of key leaders can lead to disorganization and internal conflicts.

- Temporary increase in violence following a power vacuum.

- Potentially counterproductive effect on long-term stability.

Leader Protection and Decapitation Effect Prevention

- Implementation of countermeasures to minimize identification risks.

- Complex security strategies to avoid capture.

- Compartmentalization of information to protect the hierarchy.

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