Aphorisms and Leaders’ Rhetoric

Leadership, 2(3): 367-382, 2006

Posted: 19 Jun 2012

See all articles by Kevin Morrell

Kevin Morrell

University of Warwick - Warwick Business School

Date Written: June 19, 2012


Using insights from conversation analysis, the article analyses aphorisms from 20 different writers demonstrating how these combine common rhetorical formats. It then proposes a simple framework that allows for aphorisms to be analysed further and in terms of two continua: whether they are convex or concave, and whether they are creative or destructive. The framework supplements content-based approaches with a structural account of how aphorisms may be organized and deployed. This offers a new approach for studying leaders’ rhetoric and introduces a more detailed analysis of two speeches acknowledged as powerful pieces of oratory: Marcus Antonius’ address in Julius Caesar, and Churchill’s first speech as Prime Minister. Discussion of these speeches is informed by consideration of two contextual features that influence the impact of aphorisms: setting and sequence.

Keywords: leadership, rhetoric, speech, churchill, marcus antonius, conversation analysis

Suggested Citation

Morrell, Kevin, Aphorisms and Leaders’ Rhetoric (June 19, 2012). Leadership, 2(3): 367-382, 2006, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2087540

Kevin Morrell (Contact Author)

University of Warwick - Warwick Business School ( email )

Coventry CV4 7AL
United Kingdom

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