Action Wheel Leadership

Leadership Metaphors

Action Wheel Leadership Site Map

The leadership metaphors structure page teaches the leadership metaphor view that life is a body. 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 Structure

Action Wheel Dimension: Structure

Leadership Dimension: Life is A Body

One of the most dominant contemporary metaphors views life as an organic system. Life is a body. This metaphor undegirds a wide range of seemingly disparate activities. These include the ecology movement, personal growth therapies, cooperative classrooms, and affirmative action. Capra (1982) summarizes the view of living systems that the organic metaphor conveys: "Living systems are organized in such a way that they form multi-level structures, each level consisting of sub-systems which are wholes…All these entities— from molecules to human beings, and on to social systems—can be regarded as wholes in the sense of being integrated structures, and also as parts of larger wholes at higher levels of complexity."

The organic metaphor informs "body politic," "body of knowledge," and similar phrases.

During the Watergate hearings, presidential counsel John Dean drew upon this metaphor when he spoke of a cancer growing in the presidency.

Organicism is the viewpoint of most public television nature programs. Vivid images of balance and survival, adaptation and flexibility indicate nature's ordering principles.

Life is portrayed as a complex web of interdependencies and all nature as a complex organism. Tampering with one part of the system has direct consequences for other parts. Inherent in this notion is the message that nature's survival is our own survival. Images of domination and exploitation are replaced with those of cooperation.

The leadership challenge in this dimension is to inspire passionate believers in their roles within the organization. Engagement is the raw energy that is converted into power in this dimension so that great work gets done. Leaders intentionally cultivate engagement by transforming rigid organizational structures into flexible interpersonal networks. Structural obstacles to good work are removed and systems are changed, as needed, to attain organizational goals. Leadership constantly nurtures common purpose. Shared values (what people have in common) emerge here.

Two Core Strategies in the Structure Dimension

Two core strategies emerge in the Structure Dimension:

  1. Inspiring Engagement
  2. Designing Functional Systems

Leadership Metaphors Structure - Inspiring Engagement: Core Ideas:

Leadership is rooted in values. Lessons from the Top: The 50 Most Successful Business Leaders in America--and What You Can Learn From Them identified six winning values-based strategies among corporate leaders:

  1. Live with integrity, lead by example.
  2. Develop a winning strategy or "BIG IDEA" and build on the things the organization truly does best.
  3. Build a great management team.
  4. Inspire employees to greatness.
  5. Create a flexible, responsive organization.
  6. Use reinforcing management systems.

A commitment to developing the full array of emotional intelligence competencies including:

  • Personal competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation
  • Social competencies: empathy and social skills: teaching workers how to master their emotions of anger, rejection, and other difficult aspects of their lives.

Building identity-based teams and groups: These teams differ from self-organizing teams, which are natural adaptive responses to current organizational realities.

Ethical awareness and sense of core and shared values: A core value differs from a shared value. A core value is a value of the organization as a business or nonprofit or community. A shared value is a value held in common by stakeholders, primarily employees. 

Values alignment: Companies typically devote very little time to this part of values work, but 80 to 90 percent of the time they spend working on values should be focused on achieving alignment. What does alignment look like? The values are posted everywhere (although when they are lived deeply this is less important). They are talked about and understood, they are linked to job requirements and performance appraisal, hiring and firing, and team assessments, and they are essential parts of celebrations.

Three missions:

  • Fairness—recognize that employee efforts will be a key factor in organizational growth.
  • Incentive—provide greater incentive for employees and give them a stake in the success of the organization.
  • Teamwork—get everyone working towards the same goal and foster a culture of "we," rather than "us" and "them."

Leadership Metaphors Structure - Designing Functional Systems:Core Ideas:

  • A system is a collection of building blocks, interacting with each other, to function as a whole.
  • In the leadership metaphors structure dimension, it is important to have the abilities to perform systems thinking, carry out systems design and assessment, create personnel manuals to connect people fairly and set the foundation for cross-functional teams and organizational feedback.
  • The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization explains that leaders are responsible for building an environment where people continually expand their capabilities to understand complexity, clarify vision and improve shared mental models. They are responsible for learning.
  • Lurking behind the day to day work in this dimension is a commitment to create and manage systems that functionally integrate silos into healthy connections. Internal systems are connected to external systems.
  • Leadership builds processes, procedures and orderly delivery systems. A solid infrastructure is pivotal with all parts of the organization treated seriously and balanced in relation to their contribution to the whole.

System Connectedness: The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The whole is judged by its multiple dependencies. All the parts are important. To undermine one part of the system undermines the entire system.

Reorganizations and Mergers: These are Structure Dimension activities. The infrastructure must be designed to properly define roles and responsibilities and provide the proper core foundation to permit the reorganized system to prosper.

Systems Thinking: In this leadership metaphors structure dimension, leadership uses roles and rules to reduce the anxiety and challenges that arise from uncertainty of outcome and agreement. Think of the comfort that comes from job definitions, personnel manuals, and organization charts, from knowing your job responsibilities and how they connect with the work of others.

Leadership Metaphors

Leadership Metaphors: Existence

Leadership Metaphors: Resources

Leadership Metaphors: Power

Leadership Metaphors: Mission

Leadership Metaphors: Meaning

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