Through Their Own Words: Towards a New Understanding of Leadership Through Metaphors

30 Pages Posted: 10 Dec 2002

See all articles by Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger

Oxford Internet Institute; Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Thomas Oberlechner

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS)

Date Written: October 2002

Abstract

This article suggests that metaphors are essential to understanding leadership. Metaphors can serve as underlying organizing structures of leadership thinking and experience, and they can be mobilized in order to accomplish interpersonal goals. The literature on leadership abounds with metaphors such as leadership as game, sports, art or machine. While the multitude of leadership metaphors used by authors and leaders alike appears determined by a complex interplay of personal, situational, and cultural factors, the analysis of a leadership interview indicates that these metaphors center around experientially significant nuclei of meaning. By examining the entailments of leadership metaphors on such dimensions as highlighted and hidden leadership aspects or the suggested relationship between leader and followers, metaphor analysis allows the exploration of leadership conceptualizations on an experiential level. An exploratory grid presents possible entailments of selected metaphors on important dimensions of leadership. We propose that the study of leadership metaphors can provide valuable lessons to leaders. For example, effective leadership may require a rich and situationally attuned metaphorical vocabulary. Because leadership metaphors carry implicit suggestions about values (e.g., what is good, what should be done, and how), they may also allow for new insights into the ethics of leadership.

Keywords: Leadership/Conflict Management

Suggested Citation

Mayer-Schoenberger, Viktor and Oberlechner, Thomas, Through Their Own Words: Towards a New Understanding of Leadership Through Metaphors (October 2002). KSG Working Papers Series RWP02-043. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=357542 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.357542

Viktor Mayer-Schoenberger (Contact Author)

Oxford Internet Institute ( email )

1 St. Giles
University of Oxford
Oxford OX1 3PG Oxfordshire, Oxfordshire OX1 3JS
United Kingdom

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States
617-496-7299 (Phone)
617-496-5960 (Fax)

Thomas Oberlechner

Harvard University - Harvard Kennedy School (HKS) ( email )

79 John F. Kennedy Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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