Chris Alford: AFFN Contributing Member Dianne Collard has written a wonderful piece on visual symbols in leadership, including a look at the symbolic approach to our search for meaning, and the ethical and moral responsibilities associated with the use of symbols in leadership. The introduction is presented here, and the rest is available by download (see link below). Most of our resources at the AFFN are available only to Contributing Members. Would you like to learn more about membership and Contributing Member benefits? Please visit our “Join the Network” page. Thank you!
Any visit to a mega-bookstore, such as Barnes & Noble, or even an Internet search at the Amazon.com site will confirm that organizational and leadership issues are a hot topic in today’s world. This plethora of offerings may include books proposing new trends in management and theory of leadership, but often one finds merely a re-hashing of the same issues in new dress. What is not found, however, is an abundance of proponents of the use of symbolism, especially visual symbols, as an effective organizational or management technique. Such is the topic of this paper.
Lee G. Bolman and Terrence E. Deal present the role and value of symbolism in their book on organizational management, Modern Approaches to Understanding and Managing Organizations. They recognize that “of the four major organizational perspectives, the symbolic is the newest, least developed, and least mapped” (1984:223), but its newness does not diminish its value. It behooves anyone interested in the study of leadership, organizational theory or the use of the visual arts to consider the resource of a symbolic approach in organizational motivation.
This paper will begin with a definition of the term symbolism and offer a valid basis for its use in regards to leadership. Included also is the nexus of visual art and symbolism. In the main body of the paper, a discussion of values- or meaning-based leadership will be undertaken, especially as it relates to the use of symbolism. Some specific examples of the use of symbols in various contexts will follow. Finally, a warning concerning the negative use of symbolism will form the conclusion.
A word concerning the limitations of this study is appropriate. While Bolman and Deal rightly include the use of myth (1984:153), ritual and ceremony (1984:158), stories and fairy tales (1984:155), and metaphor, humor and play (1984:163) as indices of the use of the “The Symbolic Approach” (1984:148), this paper will attempt to chart a more limited (and difficult to research) course of the use of the visual object as a symbol. It was a daunting, but worthwhile, endeavor.
To download and read the complete paper, please click here.