Leadership : Four Voices of Leadership

David M. Boje is a professor of management at New Mexico State University. He has published numerous articles in Management Communication Quarterly, Administrative Science Quarterly, Leadership Quarterly, Academy of Management Journal & other top management journals.

He is President of Standing Conference for Management and Organization Inquiry http://scmoi.org  David is past editor of the Journal of Organizational Change Management. More recently, he is founding editor of Tamara: The Journal of Critical Postmodern Organization Science http://TamaraJournal.com

David can be contacted by e-mail dboje@nmsu.edu

Based on a book review essay for Journal of Management Studies

I had the pleasure of reviewing Ole Fogh Kirkeby's (2000) book, Management Philosophy: A Radical-Normative Perspective (Berlin, Germany: Springer-Verlag). His project is to bring a "radical-normative" philosophy to the center stage of leadership and management theory and thereby save it from falling into the abyss of chaos and postmodern language games. What is radical is to reclaim ethics as central to the theory of leadership. The author seeks ethical virtues, has little sympathy for the recent wave of spiritual projects that would transform management into spiritual capitalism. Rather, the author's focus is on business ethics. The main theory of the book, and what I want to explore in this essay, is the interplay of four narrative voices, called First, Second, Third, and Fourth.  I want to extend the four voices of Kirkeby by looking at them in the context of the Theatrics of Leadership

Figure One: Four voices of Leadership (adapted from Kirkeby, 2000)

First - there was one voice - In bureaucratic theater, there is mostly monologue; other voices are there on the stage but forbidden to speak, or they can only be whispered, their words unhearable, drowned out by the one official narrator who is authorized to take center-stage and speak and speak some more. As Kirkeby (2000: 232) argues it is the right of power to baptize the event, to declare it a romantic, tragic, comedic, or ironic event and then of course make it into a romantic one that fits the bureaucratic pension for influence. For any other voice to speak would be an act of bureaucratic espionage; certainly for the secretary to speak would be unthinkable rebellion. Yet few bureaucratic theaters of organization are so totalitarian these days. Still there are glass ceiling on this stage.  Let the CEO recount the "true" and public version of the event. He is the authorized storyteller. Let him take the stage and speak about cost-cutting, down-sizing, and the need to keep all in control. The hero is this CEO and the villain is the sloth labor, the wasteful apprentice, the agitating unionist, those misinformed environmentalists. With the transformation of this event, the day is saved, but tomorrow an other event will present itself for interpretation, and new heroes and villains will be narrated by the monologic CEO. "The real leader shall keep the event open to interpretation" (Kirkeby, 2000: 236). It is best not to fix the lines of connection too solidly, ore paint the villains in too dramatic a way, the press will release a new report tomorrow or the day after. Ask the CEO of Monsanto, Shell, McDonald's or Nike, they know this practice of influence quite well. A good leader controls and influences the regime of truth. "He must be ready to overrule and redeem any identity that seems proper to the event" (p. 237). they know that "events cannot be controlled by creating stories at the level of deliberate decisions, however carefully planned and shaped through vision" p. 238). By how do they know this without listening to other voices?

Second - there were two voices - In the Quest two or more players take the stage, but it is rarely more than dialog.  In dialogue the "I" and the "Other" take the stage and we hear voices, but little reflection.  It is no longer the monologue of the I declaring the Other as villain. The Other gets to speak and be heard by the 'I."  There are also silent voices, present because we know there is a calling, someone has placed the events into a non-random order, a journey of discovery, in which the I encounters the Other and some learning takes place. Pe There are so many more consultants running about these days with workshops on dialog, how to make the bureaucracy into a conversation, but it is still just the two voices, the First and now the Second.

Third - there were three voices - To me, this voice that Kirkeby describes is the same one discovered long ago by Adam Smith. Smith looked at global capitalism and say that without ethics events might well follow a logic of the market place that would not lead to ethical relations among buyer and seller, employer and employed, monopolist and entrepreneur. It is the internal spectator, the voice that speaks to us while observing the First and Second (the I and the Other) rehearse there dialogue on the stage in our mind's eye. And in this model, even two actors on the stage visualize the dialogue of the Triad in their own head, but as well in the head of the other.  Game theorists love such a model,  Two beings in my head (each a Triad of First, Second, and Third) --- knowing that you are viewing me from your Triad.  From this Third voice comes our ethical conscience, our attempt to self-reflect on our dialog and action of self and to see how the Other views us (most likely). As Adam Smith wrote the Wealth of Nations, he also wrote the Moral Sentiments, and forever wedded ethics and economics. Is the meaning of an event always transcendental, related to the secrets of the Fourth voice?  This leader is "utterly sensitive to traces" the footprints of the Third voice are in the details of each event, if can read their chaotic lines a bit more clearly using our moral compass.

Listing a catalogue of virtues is the main point of the book:

  1. Euboulia, "the ability to deliberate n practical matters, both relating to one's own private life and to public life" (p. 185).
  2. Enthusiasm (or euphoria), "a commitment that definitely reduces the significance of one's own person, of one's own personality" since the leader (e.g. Martin Luther King or Nelson Mandela) is absorbed into the cause itself.
  3. Hypomone, the leader's ability to be actively patient and exhibit courage, stamina, and endurance (p. 190).
  4. Prolepsis, "the ability to enrich common knowledge with the powers of personal experience" (p. 192).
  5. Epibole, acts of intuition in acquiring knowledge that goes beyond simple rule following (as in Peirce's abduction as opposed to simple deduction and induction).
  6. Maieutic, the art of midwifery, or stimulating another person to seek the truth (p. 196).

Fourth - then there were four voices -  This is a very special voice, one we sense is about to speak but does not, one that is on the stage but stays in the shadows. In the Fourth, "the event is never over and done with" (Kirkeby, 2000: 237). And with the about to speak voice of the Fourth, we are intuitively aware of the simulation and almost can here the polyphony of voices, a mob about to take storm the stage. We may hear a groan, a murmur, a mumbling sound, but we can never quite make out the words. We can sense somehow the bureaucratic machine, the quest journey, and even chaos itself are just mythic metaphors some people have speculated and articulated about the web of human events (web is yet another one, as it theater a metaphor).   We sense the gap, and we know with one more step we will certainly fall into chaos. 

There are fragmented sounds, and a deep sense that we are being haunted by a spirit. And we do not know yet if it is friend or foe. This is actually we think an existential gap (Cooper and Burrell, 1988: 108). It is something beyond the ability of the bureaucrat to program to control.  The Fourth voice beckons us to listen to the Third voice about the the ethics of our strategies, aims, and obligations.  But the Fourth, lets the Third voice speak of universal values, virtues, and absolutes. Postmodernists read their ethics into each situation a new, but also into the web of relationships of competing ethics.  The Fourth voice is in the land of the pre-narrative, a story hat has yet to be told, a coherence that has not been constructed, and an event that is not yet.  We may feel the bureaucrat is without clothes simply doing PR, the quest travelers can almost imagine this is an offer of liberation that will imprison, or the tragedy of  chaotic events is being manipulated but we do not know how. The postmodernist can see more contingency than pattern, more arbitrary links than pre-ordained ones, more pseudo romantic leadership than ethical calling.   These pre-narrations almost posit a story line, but not one we believe with any confidence. The Fourth voice is a postmodern one, critical, skeptical, and ready to speak but can not put words to the music. It asks who dares call this organization a theater, and who speaks about this plot?  Who is the author of the dialog, who sets the stage, and who rehearses the actors in their lines?  

What is unique about the book is the way the author ties power and knowledge to leadership while focusing on critical theory critiques of capitalism such as surplus, exchange and use-value, management longstanding war with labor, and brand fetish of our postmodern culture. The leader is suspended between human, social, and capitalist rationalities, opposed stakeholders, and in the end "between the realms of God and the emperor" (p. xi). The implication of this view of leadership is seen in chapter 4, for example, in the reformulation of the stakeholder model from a radical-normative philosophy.

Extending stakeholder theory is a direct contribution of the book to international business scholars. Stakeholder and "network-ing" to subcontractors are brought together to show that in postmodern capitalism, managers and leaders must deal with not only shareholders, vendors, employees, unions, and government but a myriad of grass-roots groups concerned about ecology, labor rights, health effects of production and societies obsessed with over-consumption. The leader is not only a negotiator among claimants, but is often in the midst of corporate public relations campaigns that seem to "spin" out of control.

There is more to leading than managing transaction costs. Indeed, Kirkeby directly challenges the "Transaction-Cost-Model" of Williamson as "idyllic ideology" and a "naïve defense of the capitalist system" since it ignores both the Marxist consumptive and postmodern culture critique of subcontract network-ing (p. 59). So what does this more normatively-radical stakeholder theory look like? Stakeholders are part of a political economy, network-ing in acts of distribution, production, and consumption while narrating a phenomenology of the commodity that must face ethical dilemmas. The leader much communicate to stakeholders how the firm handles any environmental catastrophes that threaten natural resources and threatened species (p. 64-65). The leader must prove to stakeholders that the production and distribution subcontracting is not adding to the problems of the third world, violating the spirit of legislation, and meets the aesthetic image of their brand images.

Yet another area relevant to general readership is leadership theory. Kirkeby asserts that Gary Yukl, a noted leadership theorist is too cautious in refusing to set out the traits of the "good leader" (p. 65). It is a necessary challenge to the author's project of developing his own list of leader virtues.

Part II - Not Everyone is Free to Speak

Foucault (1984) argues that discourse is controlled in organizations (and society) and the rules and rituals define who has a voice.  The discourse sometimes inspires "respect and terror" and other times is a form of "ritual" to dispense justice or legitimate leadership or followership (Foucault, 1984: 113). There is a micropolitics of power in organizations that disciplines who may speak about what to whom. There is a "discursive policing" of who gets a voice (p. 120). And society demands that its leaders speak with one voice or two, or three or even four, such is the politics of leadership voice. yet, like a shadow, we can have conversations with the other three voices and think to ourselves that no one hears this conversation.  Yet the single-voiced bureaucratic pyramid of leadership is a theater whose front stage has been set. The stage lights shine on the single leader.  And in recent times there are multiple lights that seek to spotlight a polyphony of leaderly voices. In either performance the institution of power has scripted the theatrics.  And our training in the MBA program is merely rehearsal. 

Ó Copyright David Boje, 2000


Boje (2000) Theatrics of Leadership

Kirkeby, Ole Fogh (2000) Management Philosophy: A radical-normative perspective. Berlin: Springer.

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