Metaphors We Lead By: Understanding Leadership in the Real World

Book_JacketBy André Spicer
Mats Alvesson

"We live in a leadership-obsessed society. The result is that we assume nearly any social or economic ill can be mended through better leadership. Sometimes, this commitment to leadership is followed by hero worshipping, wishful thinking and misplaced hope. Seeking to understand the faith we place in leadership, the authors draw on a number of in-depth studies of managers trying to "do" leadership. It presents six metaphors for the leader: as gardener, cosy-crafter, saint, cyborg, commander, and bully. Some of these offer unexpected insights into how leadership does and does not work. The book sheds light on a varied - often contradictory and sometimes darker - side of leadership."

Sample Chapter

Metaphors for Leadership

"IN THE PREVIOUS CHAPTER we argued that despite the fact that we talk about leadership every day as if it was a self-evident idea, it is a concept wracked by ambiguity and complexity. But just because leadership is difficult to get a handle on, it does not mean that we should necessarily dispose of the idea. Instead, we need to find a way that allows us to get hold of this complexity and try to capture the multiple possible meanings associated with the idea. In this chapter, we would like to suggest that one way we might be able to capture this ambiguity is through using metaphors to study leadership. Complex and multidimensional phenomena call for considering a variety of aspects, thereby acknowledging but also dealing with ambiguity.

Metaphors have been the subject of increasing attention in recent years, both in social science in general and organizational analysis in particular. The writings of Gareth Morgan (1980, 1986) have been groundbreaking in re - thinking how we use metaphors to understand the complexities and ambiguities of organizational life. Metaphors are seen as important organizing devices in thinking and talking about complex phenomena. They allow us a way of recognizing that we never relate to objective reality ‘as such’, but always do so through forming metaphors or images of the phenomenon we address. Organizations are, for example, seen as if they are machines, organisms, political arenas, brains, theatres, or psychic prisons. By using these metaphors, we are able to make sense of the confusions, complexities and difficulties that are often associated with organizational life.... "

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Author_PhotoAndré Spicer is an Associate Professor of Organisation Studies at Warwick Business School, University of Warwick, UK. He is also a visiting research fellow at the University of Lund, Sweden. His recent publications (as co-author) include Unmasking the Entrepreneur and Understanding Corporate Life.

Mats Alvesson is Professor of Business Administration at the Lund University, Sweden. He is also affiliated with University of Queensland Business School. Another of his recent books, Changing Organizational Culture, is also available from Routledge.

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