Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Myth and Leadership Vision: Rhetorical Manifestations of Cultural Force

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership Studies

Myth and Leadership Vision: Rhetorical Manifestations of Cultural Force

Article excerpt

Executive Summary

We argue that the nature of myth is such that it may be involved in any personally-significant or group-significant attempt to change behavior or attitudes. Second, in one sense at least, vision has a force to it that requires further exploration; one explanation for such force is that myth may be involved as a rhetorical resource or as a cultural imperative in effective vision. Third, we argue that considering myth and vision as an amalgam enhances our understanding. In short, myth and vision are described as symbiotic, co-activated, co-authorizing constructs.

Understanding how leaders use vision strategically to motivate followers and to move groups or organizations involves the study of rhetorical action (Conger, 1991; Shamir, Arthur, & House, 1994; Burtis, 1995; Den Hartog & Verburg, 1997; Awamleh & Gardner, 1999). In one sense, a leadership vision is "a general transcendent ideal that represents shared values; it is ideological in nature and has moral overtones" (Kirkpatrick & Locke, 1996, p. 37). There is mystery involved in any communication process that results in the effective articulation of, and action upon, shared values. There is no recipe for success. An effective leadership vision of this sort involves blending the arts and science of leadership. In this paper, we focus on unpacking one of the rhetorical aspects of the mystery of effective leadership vision. We argue that the role that a culture's myths can play within a leadership vision is one part of the mysterious force that results from some effective leadership visions. We examine the relationship between the leadership construct "vision," and the cultural construct "myth."

Myths are culturally shared narratives that describe an important aspect of the culture or its values and that provide a normative instrument or calculus for the "truth" to those within the culture, helping to shape their values, beliefs, and symbolic reality. Vision is leadership communication that provides a unique and appealing future for a group. For a vision to be salient it must be perceived as an appropriate response to a sense of crisis or opportunity (Burtis, 1995). Crisis helps to provide the urgency needed to help followers and a group or organization to change their current path and protocols. In simplest terms, leadership is "vision made salient by crisis" (Burtis, 1995, p. 53).

In this paper, we will discuss the role that the rhetorical use of myth can play in the articulation and evocation of effective vision. We proceed through our argument in three stages. First, we argue that the nature of myth is such that it may be involved in any personally-significant or group-significant attempt to change behavior or attitudes. Second, an examination of vision leads us to conclude that, in one sense at least, vision has a force to it that requires further exploration; one explanation for such force is that myth is involved in effective vision. Third, we argue that considering the two concepts as part of a myth/vision amalgam enhances our understanding of leadership vision. In short, myth and vision are described as symbiotic, co-activated, co-authorizing constructs.

The Nature of Myth

Humans, or what Fisher (1970, 1984, 1985) calls, Homo Narrans, attempt to tell their experiences in the form of narrative: to tell stories about who they are, about what they do, and about what they perceive the future to hold (Fisher, 1984 1985). Groups of individuals tell stories about what their experiences have meant and about what is to be valued from these experiences by the group and its members. When a whole culture shares a story that tells its people what is important or distinct about the culture or what people within the culture value, then that story has the capacity to serve as a partial guide for individuals, groups, and organizational activities that occur within the culture. When individuals feel that cultural stories describe the world, they allow themselves and their world to be bounded by the myths of the culture (Braden, 1975). …

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