Examining the Strategic Leadership of Organizations Using Metaphor: Brains and Flux-Interconnected and Interlocked

Examining the Strategic Leadership of Organizations Using Metaphor: Brains and Flux-Interconnected and Interlocked

Sharon E. Norris (Spring Arbor University, USA)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 17
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1049-9.ch093
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Over the years, metaphors have been used to explain and describe the nature of organizations. Weick (1969) used metaphors to describe organizations as processes of interconnected and interlocked behaviors, where the influence of one person is contingent on the behavior of another. Morgan (2006) used metaphors, such living brains and organizations as flux and transformation, to describe organizational life. As living brains, organizations are represented as decision making systems within which information is processed, patterns are recognized, and memory plays a key role in organizational functioning. As flux and transformation, organizations are viewed as emergent self-organizing phenomenon by which small nudges to the system hold potential to create large effects. By studying organizations using metaphors, strategic leaders can embrace new paradigms from which they improve communication, become better equipped to facilitate organizational learning, and develop into more effective change agents.
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Strategic leadership in the competitive global marketplace requires a flexible and adaptable stance that not only infuses stability and purpose into an organization but also creates an environment with open communication that is conducive for creativity and innovation. Morgan (2006), an organizational scientist and consultant, explains the paradoxical insights that can be gained by using metaphors to describe the nature of organizations as a way of seeing, understanding, shaping, and reshaping modern workplaces. Metaphors enlighten by distortion and interweave what is known with what is unknown to create different perspectives and diverse images of the nature of organizations. From these diverse images, new connections and patterns may appear and innovative potentials for transformation may emerge. New patterns and potentials for change may then reveal the interconnection of causal loops, and these loops may contain disturbances or unpredictable events, which reverberate through complex systems and reshape paradigms (Morgan, 2006; Weick, 1969). It has been argued, the shaping and reshaping of organizations occurs through interconnections (Smith & Graetz, 2011), and understanding these interconnected organizational behaviors can be beneficial for strategic leaders and managers.

Weick (1969), another organizational scientist, is well known for his research on sensemaking and the social psychology of organizing applied to understanding organizational life. He defines organizing as “a consensually validated grammar for reducing equivocality by means of sensible interlocked behaviors” (Weick, 1969, p. 3). Equivocality refers to uncertainty, and in a world of rapid, continual change, individuals attempt to reduce ambiguity and increase stability in their organizational life. Interlocked behaviors, according to Weick, are the rules and conventions that develop and are maintained as individuals engage in the process of organizing.

Weick (1969) states, “Organizing is accomplished by processes” (p. 89), and “Processes contain individual behaviors that are interlocked among two or more people. The behaviors of one person are contingent on the behaviors of another person(s)” (p. 89). Not only do interlocked behaviors explain how individuals attempt to remove equivocality, but these behaviors also reveal how people become entrapped in cycles that maintain the status quo and make change difficult. By carefully observing the process of organizing as well as identifying interconnected and interlocked behaviors in everyday events, patterns of relating are revealed. Weick (1974) explains, “Nothing special happens in organizations that does not also happen elsewhere in a more visible form. The problem then is to locate these ‘elsewheres’ and know what to do with them” (p. 487). Using metaphors can help strategic leaders identify these ‘elsewheres’ by noticing obvious but simultaneously hidden convergence and divergence of interests among individuals in the organization. Ting-Toomey and Dorjee (2014) define convergence as “communicatively accommodating or adjusting to each other’s interests or needs in the encounter” (p. 35), whereas divergence is revealed through distancing, disengagement, and avoidance behaviors and defensive communication. In this chapter, the nature of organizations is examined using metaphors in order to gain insights for overcoming barriers of communication, imagination, and change. Gaining new insights about organizational life through the use of metaphors such brains, flux, and transformation, strategic leaders may develop new paradigms from which to improve communication, become better equipped to facilitate organizational learning, and develop into more effective change agents.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Transformation: The outcome of a system, person, group, or organization that undergoes paradigm-shifting change.

Flux: A state of flux is an ongoing state of change.

Double Loop Learning: A process of learning that questions and examines underlying assumptions and existing paradigms.

Metaphor: A word, phrase, image, or symbol used to make comparisons between two different objects or constructs that have a common resemblance or similar characteristics.

Strategic Leadership: The leadership within an organization that is concerned with the totality of functions, communication, learning, and change.

Chaos Theory: A field of study that explains nonlinear or dynamical systems.

Double Interact: An act is the behavior of one person; an interact is the response; the double interact is the response to the response.

Equivocality: Uncertainty or ambiguity.

Single Loop Learning: The detection and correction of errors.

Complex Responsive Processes: An explanation of how organizations develop through interactions, communication, and processes of relating.

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