Action Wheel Leadership

Leadership Metaphors

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The leadership metaphors meaning page teaches the leadership metaphor view that life is art. Each leadership metaphor represents one of the Action Wheel dimensions of leadership as developed in Dr. Robert Terry's book Authentic Leadership: Courage In Action.


Leadership Metaphors Meaning

Action Wheel Dimension: Meaning

Leadership Metaphor: Life is Art

"When good jazz musicians improvise together, they also manifest a ‘feel for' their material and they make on-the-spot adjustments to the sounds they hear. Listening to one another and themselves, they feel the way the music is going and adjust their playing accordingly. …They are reflecting in action on the music they are collectively making and on their individual contribution to it. Thinking what they are doing and, in the process evolving their way of doing it" (Schon, 1983, pp. 55 – 56). Donald Schon's description of improvisational jazz provides a bridge from the journey to the art metaphor.

This is not a new metaphor; it fills modern everyday language. We "imagine scenarios," "sculpt visions," "act out roles," and "write the future" on the "stage of life." Improvisation, context, setting, and history are important to this metaphor.

Art focuses on journey as a historical trip but highlights the receiving and creating aspect of human dwelling, the flow of past and future into each other that clarifies sense and significance for the journey itself. Art is that process which reveals our being to us, gives shape and substance to the journey, calls us not only to attend to ourselves and others, to care for ourselves and others, but also to stand, to present ourselves, to articulate values, and to be centers of authenticity.

The leadership challenge in the meaning dimension is the perception of being in permanent "white water." Nothing remains stable: uncertainty abounds regarding what actions to take. Leadership improvises. No one person is in charge; each hands off to others to make important actions happen. The outcome is uncertain, and yet we find a strong sense of being in this together.

Core Ideas:

  • Permanent white water
  • Constant change
  • Improvisation
  • Relationships are the glue
  • Core values and ethical principles guide you and your organization

What are core values? Core values are tied to the organization. Core values are the ideals that give life to the organization. Core values are the beliefs and principles necessary to sustain the work of the organization. Core values define meaning for the organization.

Inculcating core values into an organization means living them every day:

  • The organization's core values are the glue – the bond – the identity – that create a secure foundation for their work.
  • Core values construct the infrastructure upon which the organization can define its purpose and develop its goals.
  • Core values provide the strength and courage for the organization to create meaning in chaos, guide future action, confront change and achieve success.

Caution: Core values are not universal – they may not be meaningful to all stakeholders and conflict with individual's personal values. In addition, an organizations core ideology may not be ethical.

The View To Values assessment was developed by Action Wheel Leadership as a framework for thinking about the values, preferences, and dispositions that drive individual and group decision-making.

Within the organization it is critical that leadership:

  • Explore core values
  • Identify core values
  • Affirm core values
  • Educate about core values
  • Align core values

Shared values are ideals, beliefs, principles, or qualities which you hold in common with others in the organization and to which you attach highest regard, highest priority and greatest meaning.

  • Without action, our values are merely a list of words. Action brings our values to life, expresses our values, makes obvious our beliefs, conveys our meaning.
  • Shared Values can be explicit: defined, affirmed, overtly shared and communicated. Share values can also be implicit: unspoken, embedded in the work, inherent in action.
  • Our values define, rationalize and justify our actions. We possess an internal sensor that detects action which is not in alignment with our values.

Eight shared values that appear to be important to all employees in all cultures and are inherent in an authentic organization:

  1. Honesty (individual and organizational)
  2. Truthfulness (individual and organizational)
  3. Trust
  4. Openness to new ideas
  5. Encouragement to take risks
  6. Giving credit
  7. Putting the interest of others first
  8. Mentoring (individual and management) (Lebow Company, 1995)

Meaning requires preparedness to answer the question: "What is really going on?"

  • It requires improvisation
  • It requires multiple framing.
  • It requires confronting inauthenticity.
  • It requires comfort from the safe places the organization has built.
  • It requires calling up one's sacred history and learning from it.
  • It requires affirming core values.

The Action Wheel Assessment was created by Action Wheel Leadership as a way to discover what is really going on in your organization and what to do about it.

Related Links:

Leadership Metaphors

Leadership Metaphors: Existence

Leadership Metaphors: Resources

Leadership Metaphors: Structure

Leadership Metaphors: Power

Leadership Metaphors: Mission

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