Former Associate Professor of Public Policy
(Faculty member no longer at HKS)
Through Their Own Words: Towards a New Understanding of Leadership through Metaphors.
Mayer-Schönberger, Viktor, and Thomas Oberlechner. "Through Their Own Words: Towards a New Understanding of Leadership through Metaphors." KSG Faculty Research Working Papers Series RWP02-043, October 2002.
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.