Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

The Power of Leadership Storytelling: Case of Adolf Hitler

Academic journal article Tamara Journal of Critical Organisation Inquiry

The Power of Leadership Storytelling: Case of Adolf Hitler

Article excerpt

Introduction

During the last two decades storytelling has gained a strong position in leadership theory and practice (e.g. Boje 2006; Boje & Rhodes, 2006; Flory & Iglesias, 2010; Auvinen et al., 2013). Stories can be seen as a particular doctrine and even a philosophy of leadership. Some authors treat stories as an intentional leadership instrument (e.g. Parkin, 2004; Denning, 2005), whereas some emphasize the subconscious, or even innocent, nature of organizational and leadership storytelling (e.g. Gabriel, 1995; Auvinen, Aaltio & Blomqvist, 2013). In terms of leadership theory - diverging from traditional leader-centred approaches - storytelling is interested in discursive resources that construct and convey leadership power. In terms of power, storytelling is not attached to sovereign power but social interaction in organizational processes, where leadership-influenced power is constructed and conveyed, or contested (Weick & Browning, 1986; Collin et al., 2012). Organizations are replete with a wide range of different forms of stories: myths, sagas, legends about heroes or the defeated, strategic projects and humorous anecdotes (Gabriel, 2000). Some stories are coherent, well-established and publicly expressed narratives with a clear plot, while others are fragmented, spontaneous or even hidden from public discourse (Czarniawska, 1998; Boje, 2001). Regardless, stories are information-rich entities full of organizational values and beliefs containing moral positions dealing with issues concerning what is good and bad (Gabriel & Griffiths, 2004; Ciulla, 2005), and therefore, an appropriate vehicle for studying leadership and ethics.

Stories may inform us about leadership styles. Contrary to hierarchical and authoritarian approaches (such as managerialism), storytelling is often seen as an ethical approach to leadership - promoting democracy and empowerment (see e.g. Weick & Browning, 1986; Auvinen et al., 2013). Instead of straightforward commands and coercion, a story is rather persuasive and latent. Therefore, it is the subjective and collective interpretation of the stories among organizational members that brings about leadership influence (ibid.).

Plato stated that the one who tells the story governs (Fisher, 1985). In other words, the owner of the story - the narrator - resorts to discursive exercise of power (see Foucault, 2000). Unlike during the exercise of force and coercion, the source of such power lies in discursive reality and the mental realm (Polkinghorne, 1988): The storyteller aspires to influence the social reality with a view to shaping it in a desirable direction. This, in fact, addresses the ethical dimension in leadership stories: Storytelling may involve attempts to seduce or even manipulate with evil purposes. Indeed, the narrator may conceal her/his intentions with indoctrination and manipulation, whereupon listeners are not aware of the attempts to wield power over them. Consequently, exercising leadership power in this manner is typically seen as rather bad and unethical. According to Bass (1998), manipulative leadership is condemned as unethical and hence called pseudoleadership.

Our paper will include a case study of Adolf Hitler's leadership within the framework of storytelling. Why study this dictator, who has been referred to as bad and vicious? First, Adolf Hitler's life and career was something unusual and worth studying - Drucker (see e.g. TCBR, 2014) even nominated him (along with Mao and Stalin) as one of the most influential leaders of the 20th century and an archetype of dark ethics and charisma. Hitler set up the Nazi regime and caused the death of millions of people. Indeed, the ethics of the Nazis are personified in Hitler to some extent and these entities are tightly interconnected. Secondly, the image of the leader transforms in the course of time through storytelling (e.g. Cunliffe & Coupland, 2012). We are not suggesting that in another 50 or 100 years Hitler will be seen as a good leader with sound ethics, but it may be possible that his charisma and Nazi ethics could still work on many people (e. …

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