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The Executive Leadership and the Management of Symbols Published: Sunday, October 15, 2006 By: Dr. Manuel Ńngel Morales

Joseph L. Bower, a great organizational sciences scholar, has sated (The Two Faces of Management and Statecraft, Strategy and Organization Leadership) that leaders use their symbolic power to persuade, along with their actual power to command, in order to initiate action.  In this sense, running a company is like good politics, because you are always balancing interests and personalities and trying to keep people motivated.  There is no standard procedure for this art and craft of leadership exercise.  The great organizational sociologist Philip Selznick (Leadership in Administration, and The Organizational Weapon) labeled this symbolic function of leadership as kind of ďinstitutionalizationĒ, whereby an organizationís values are infused through the leaderís effort to navigate the company beyond immediate tasks toward larger common purposes.

Although the leaderís influence is not merely symbolic, truly effective leaders rely heavily on the prestige and clout of their knowledge, experience and undertakings.  The leaders who get things done because he/her is a cultural symbol with social or market linkages is always one who also manages with substantive action.  Our longstanding point is that leadership (the capacity to contribute to meaningful purpose) is always a function of symbolic activation and substance demonstration. 

A point of alert! A crucial role executive leadership is to interpret the organizationís context for its member in order to create a sense of shared meaning which is necessary for action, by using the power of symbols and the power of substance demonstration.  One of the first organizational scientist to identify the symbolic and substantive roles that executive leaders must master was Henry Mintzberg, stressing the representations of FIGURE HEAD, LIASON, SPOKEPERSON, RESOURCE ALLOCATOR and INTERNAL and EXTERNAL NEGOTIATOR. Often they have to be FLEXIBLE, INNOVATIVE, NORMATIVE and NONTRADITIONAL in the ways they use to achieve goals and objectives.  Our research and experience show that rather than relying upon the formal chain of command, leaders often tend to create informal networks to gather information across organizations and hierarchies, and to continuously reorder priorities as the agenda or the plans change.  CONVERSTIONTS ARE THE MAIN VEHICLES FOR PERSUASION AND CHANGE.

Leaders are not rugged autocrats who pound their fist and command results.  Instead, they rely upon many forms of executive action beyond the channels of formal authority to strengthen their actual power.  For them, the symbolic actions are the substantive tools of executive leadership.

Besides being the leader of a formal organization, the top executive is the reigning hero of the company culture.  In this important role he/she embodies the spirit and the values that provide others with a sense of collective purpose and a membership to a winning team.

QBS has researched profoundly the specific activities that executive leaders follow to circumvent their respective organizations, and how the consequences of such managerial behavior shape the underlying culture of the institution.  Executive leaders shape corporate and institutional culture by (1) what they pay attention to through education, measurement and control.  (2) How they react to specific incidents and crises. (3) Their recruitment, selection, promotion and dismissal policies. (4) The overt authority structures and the flow of information they establish. (5) The design of the physical space they manage (architecture and esthetic layouts). (6)  Their creation of stories that convey the organizationís core values. (7) Their formal statements of company philosophy.

Copyright 2006 QBS, Inc.
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