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Posted: August 9th, 2020

Leadership As Construction Of Meaning Philosophy Essay

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As human beings it seems necessary for us to try to put meaning on things to have a better understanding of our world. This process of making sense fulfills our fear (conscious or not) of not controlling our life. Sensemaking is a natural, ongoing and endless process. It implies trying to “structure the unknown” (Waterman, 1990, p.41) or “making something sensible” (Weick, 1995, p.16).

Sensemaking requires three basics elements: frame, a cue and a relation between these two. Frame of references represents the past moments of the socialization whereas cues are the present moments of experience. The relation between these two must be plausible to extract meaning. Because sensemaking is not just a process as understanding, interpretation or attribution, it requires grasping the seven properties of sensemaking. Indeed, Weick sees “sensemaking as a process that is grounded in identity construction, retrospective, enactive of sensible environments, social, ongoing, focused on and by extracted cues, and driven by plausibility rather than accuracy” (Weick, 1995, p.17).

Identity is a dynamic concept in continual redefinition. In fact, depending on the situation, we adapt our identity. For instance, my identity with my teachers is not the same than the one that I adopt with my friends. As a result, my identity is different according to the different sensemaking of the situation. However, all of those adjustments develop my frame of references.

We extract meaning from cues by regarding our frame of references. In this way, sensemaking is a retrospective process: “how can I know what I think until I see what I say?” (Weick, 1995, p.18). If I take for example the situation where I hear the ambulance siren on the street, I will suppose that there is an accident in the neighborhood. Thus, I understand this stimuli (the siren) by isolating the cue and put off meaning from it. Nevertheless, it is only because I have already experienced it (and so it is on my frame of references) that I can make sense of it. Despite of it, we have to be also conscious that our attention of past events is influenced by what is occurring now, by the new situation and what I am now.

This process is reinforced by social interactions. Human being is social so we need a common understanding to interact with each other. Those interactions influence our frame of references because we need a shared meaning to understand each other.

One other interesting fact on Weick’s theory is the role of interruptions. Since sensemaking is an ongoing process, “we always find ourselves in the middle of complex situations which we try to disentangle by making, then revising, provisional assumptions” (Weick, 1995, p.43). Consequently, we need interruptions on our projects to understand. “Interruption is a signal that important changes have occurred in the environment” (Weick, 1995, p.46). So, it forces and facilitates a time of reflection.

A focus on environment is also necessary. In fact, we often forget that we are a part of our environment. Of course our environment influences our sensemaking but there is no single fixed environment. In other words, we also influence our environment by our actions. More than that, we create environment when we try to adapt ourselves to it. It is a mutual influence.

To conclude, what is extracted as cues is not pre-given, but is contingent on context, frames of reference and actions. However, sensemaking is not about truth; “sensemaking is about the embellishment and elaboration of a single point of reference or extracted cue” (Weick, 1995, p.57). We just need something plausible, that makes sense for us. “What is necessary in sensemaking is a good story” (Weick, 1995, p.61).

question 2:

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Leaders are “entrepreneurs of meanings” (Popper, 2011). This expression illustrates the main leader’s role in the organization; leader must be a sensegiver. Also called the management of meaning, this activity consists in trying to influence followers’ understandings. Leader must convince his or her followers to embrace a new vision.

In order to fulfill this mission, the leader should first provide directions, which could disconfirm the existing understanding. Consequently, the leader has to create a picture, as inspiring as possible, to motivate them. It is necessary that the followers integrate that the current position is wrong or not enough, and that they need to move in another direction. The leader would personify the guide to this desirable future.

In spite of it, the leader could also use the bracketing process in order to enhance the followers’ perception of the organization. This could take the shape of labeling which convey the meaning of competition with other organizations. This strategy will improve the team spirit within the followers. The other solution for the leader could be using symbolic actions.

In other words, by the management of meaning the leader legitimate his or her position. However, the main purpose remains to communicate a message to the followers. Those who succeed are the one who frame and define the reality of followers.

As a result, those who fail are the one who did not communicate effectively. Several raisons could be mentioned. First of all, the leader and the vision are interrelated. That implies that if something goes wrong, that is the leader’s responsibility. Nevertheless, in this particular case, the leader did not fail in sensemaking, just in business decision. So the real failure in management of meaning occurs when followers do not accept to be led by the leader or when they abandon him or her. The main mistake in this situation comes from the communication of the message. Indeed, the leader did not embody correctly the story that she or he relate to his or her followers. Moreover, it could also stem from that the new vision is too much in opposition with the collective frame of references. Consequently, there is no more shared meaning, necessary for a shared action. Indeed, “all organizations depend on the existence of shared meanings and interpretations of reality, which facilitate coordinated action. The actions and symbols of leadership frame and mobilize meaning” (Bennis and Nanus, 2004, p.37). In those circumstances, it is quite impossible for the followers to extract the meaning of this new vision.

As Bennis and Nanus express: “the management of meaning, mastery of communication, is inseparable from effective leadership” (2004, p.31). More than that, “you lead by voice” (Bennis and Nanus, 2004, p.137). If nobody could hear you, nobody will follow you; that is why management of meaning is necessary to lead effectively.

question 3:

Role of the followers in leadership

The relationship between the leader and followers is dynamic. This relation illustrates an implicit contract between these two; the leader assumes all responsibilities if followers accept to be led and the other way round. This contract cannot exist without the mutual consent of both parts. Each of them needs the other to exist; and consequently each of them influences the other. Both are active sensemaker and sensegiver. As a result, leadership comes out as the product constructed by the leader and the followers. Though followers are often underestimated in the leadership, according to this dynamic relationship, they seem to have a role to play. Followership appears as “an active role of followers play in shaping the interdependency of leader/followers interactions” (Crossman & Crossman, 2011). Any leader could exist without followers and no action is possible without followers. The role of leader is, in this way, to influence followers to move into action; but to reach this goal, leaders need to make sense. This process is called the management of meaning.

“An essential factor in leadership is the capacity to influence and organize meaning for the members of the organization” (Bennis and Nanus, 2004, p.37). As consequence, leaders are responsible to manage meanings into the organization, express it. Since followers have their own frame of references, they will not follow any type of vision. They require finding meaning in the leader vision. In other words, followers influence the way of the leader makes sense and so the leadership. Consequently, the leader has to adapt himself or herself to the collective frame of references; and so fit to followers’ expectations.

To be in harmony with followers’ expectation, the leader should reflect about the main motivations of the followers to be led. Three principal explanations are formulated: the search for safety, someone responsible of the consequences, and/or someone as a prototypical of the group. As a result, the leader must shape structure to comfort followers, enunciate goals to motivate them and finally take all the responsibility (and so the risk) to fulfill the requirement of safety. In other words, leader has to act as a guide. The only way to embrace this role is to create a picture as inspiring as possible. Leader has to provide a plausible meaning in a complex environment and so “he must make sense of an uncertain situation that initially makes no sense” (Weick, 2009, p.9). To reach this goal, leader owns several supports as symbols, using cues and bracketing them or fit with the collective frame of references. Those will help him or her to get going the collective action. Indeed, since sensemaking is social, shared understanding is required to a shared action.

To conclude, followers practice an important influence on the leadership. In fact, leader has to convince followers to be led. Consequently, followers appear as the judge of the leadership and allocate the legitimacy of the leader. As a result, leader has to remain in harmony with the collective frame of references in order to provide a common meaning and so to enhance the collective action. “Leadership involves just three things – a leader, followers and a common goal” (Bennis and Thomas, 2007 p.137).


Leadership as a “multi-communicative” activity

We are living in a complex world where any situations could support a multiplicity of meanings and counter stories. The circumstances are the same in an organizational level. (FACE A) Face to this condition, “leaders create meaning out of events and relationships that devastate nonleaders” (Bennis and Thomas, 2007, p.17).

Leaders are expected to give sense in those situations; we see them as sensegivers. To reach this purpose, leaders have to bracket the experience. In other words, they isolate small piece of experience (called cues) and put off meaning from them. After that, leaders can suggest a meaning. “Leaders articulate and define what has previously remained implicit or unsaid; then they focus for new attention” (Bennis and Nanus, 2004, p.37). To reach this purpose, leaders own a “toolbox” to convey effectively this new meaning.

The most common tool remains speaking. Most of the great leaders that we know were famous for their ability to speak. In fact, leader and orator are often confused. “Linguistic intelligence” (Gardner, 1996) appears as a necessary skill. However, master rhetorical speech allows leaders to convince people with words but also with the way of delivering the speech. In fact, in this type of speech, the ton of the voice fit the state of mind of the leader and so attention of the message. The aim is to convey emotions and feeling in order to give life to the leaders’ vision and so motivate followers in their way.

To be as convincing as possible, leaders have to embody the story. That implies relating personal stories, full of example and illustrations. Because they truly believe in what they say, leaders are authentic and so more convincing. They are a prototypical of the group and an exemplification of the message which suppose a strong identification to them. This would increase leaders’ legitimacy.

Leaders could be seen as an actor who embodies perfectly the story. In fact, a lot of comparisons are made between performing leadership and theatre. This tool of performing is often assimilated to drama. In this way, metaphors are required to create stronger meaning. Indeed, metaphors highlight certain interpretations and in the same way hide others. Consequently, theories, building on unspoken metaphors, guide our perception and understanding. Performing also suggests enactment of leaders. Moving, use gestures, screaming but also use the silence is required to create emotions to the audience. Performing is a co-production between leaders and followers; each of them has a special role to play. So, highlight the main points of the message makes the audience react to it. Consequently it will improve the audience’s involvement.

Finally, using symbols adds power to the message. In fact, the message must be clear and easily understandable in order to touch everyone. Pictures, illustrations and symbols make it more shareable; and collective action is only possible with a shared meaning.

All things considered, leadership is a multi-communicative activity. Leaders have choice concerning the way they want to convey their message. However, one important thing needs to be kept in mind: “communication leads to community, that is, to understanding, intimacy” (Rollo May).

question 5:

Frames of references both enables our sensemaking but in the same time restricts our sensemaking

“Frames enables people to locate, perceive, identify and label occurrences in their lives and world”. Frames of references are shaped by experiences, values, education, knowledge and interaction with others. Sensemaking is an endless process because of the continuous flow of experiences. Thus, our frame of reference is modified and developed all the time.

“More you see, more you know” express that frames of references enable our sensemaking. In fact, as I have said before, sensemaking is a retrospective cognitive process. More you experience, more developed is your frame of references and so more you put meaning off different situations. In the organizational life, frame of references has several functions. It could act as unwritten rules. It is a way of control because it implies all the shared assumptions about expected norms of organizational behaviour. But it could also be a cognitive structure which shapes theories of action, the appropriate way of doing business. Moreover, frame of reference in the organization could reflect the tradition and consequently bring the vision of the society and its values.

All of these aspects of organizational frame of references enable our sensemaking because of a shared meaning. It allows order and to work efficiently within the organization.

But, on the other side, frames of references could also restrict our sensemaking. In fact, it directs our attention. The way we percept stimuli appears biased. So, frames of references influence how we bracket cues and how we extract meanings from it. In short, frames of references limit our search for alternatives which constraint our expectation; and so restrict our sensemaking. Plus, our frames of references are more often reinforced than reformed. Indeed, more your frame of references is developed, harder is to question your behaviour and so think differently. Unfortunately, it works exactly the same on an organizational level. That explains why a lot of companies are afraid of taking risks. Risks imply change in the frame of references and so could decrease the legitimacy of the leader if it goes wrong.

However, in our complex world, companies have to think different. Nowadays, the aim is not just profit anymore, but more stay competitive. In fact, the competition is harder than ever and crushes the ones who did not adapt themselves quickly. As Porter said: “the firms must take out a distinct position from its rivals. Imitation almost ensures a lack of competitive advantage and hence mediocre performances”. But, in so many cases, leaders forgot that they could also influence their environment. In short, by thinking different (and so make the difference) companies influence their environment and so their competitors’ behaviours.

As a conclusion, frames of references are essential and necessary for order and clarity in any type of organizations. They represent “shared, relatively coherently interrelated set of emotionally charged beliefs, values, and norms that bind some people together and help them to make sense of their worlds”. Frames of references enable our sensemaking but, on the same time, can restrict it. To avoid it, we have to learn thinking outside the boundaries. We have to keep in mind the Albert Einstein’s quote: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.

question 6:

Clinton’s Human Rights Day Speech

“Rhetoric in the most general sense, is the energy inherent in emotion and thought, transmitted through a system of signs, including language, to others to influence their decisions or actions” (Kennedy, 1991, p.7). Based on this concept, I will proceed to a rhetorical analysis of Hilary Clinton’s Human Rights Day Speech. Nevertheless, I want draw attention in the fact that it is a personal analysis. In fact, because of my own frame of references, I have particular expectations and interpretation of this speech and its subject; and it must bias the meaning that I could extract from it. I have also to take into account that is a celebrative speech. The point of it is to celebrate a special event, so it will influence the style of arrangement. However, Hilary Clinton has decided that is a good occasion to go over a simple celebration and argue also for the LGBT rights. In fact, just the first part of her speech is about celebration.

Generally speaking, this speech is well written and arranged. In fact, it follows the fundamental aspects of rhetoric with differentiate parts as the exordium, the narratio, the probation, the refutation and the peroratio. Moreover, she decides to appeal to the audience by using pathos which “awakening the emotions of the audience” by employing the violence vocabulary and the protection and progress vocabulary. Hence, her speech is based on opposition.

First of all, I could observe the introduction (or exordium) at the beginning of the speech. This part must be shortly and create sympathy to the audience. Here Hilary Clinton expresses it by some salutations as “good evening” and with humbleness “deep honor and pleasure”. She also explains the reason of her speech: “the anniversary of one of the great accomplishment of the last century”. It is a direct introduction since it is not a sensitive subject to talk about, just a celebrative speech. Consequently she has no need to present the subject in a more subtle way, nor introduce herself because she is already known by the audience.

Secondly, her statement of facts (or narratio), remains the background of the speech as a story chronologically ordered and strongly based on the WWII. She also employs some metaphors as “step by step” or “barriers” and some illustrations full of details to make it spirited. This war is the collective symbol of a real trauma concerning the Human Rights, so she uses it to arouse the interest of the audience and emphasize the importance of the subject. Furthermore, everybody recognizes how terrible some people were treated during this period and sees it as a violation of Human Rights.

Thirdly, there is the opinion and proof (probatio). I find it interesting how she changes her way of speaking. Indeed, I can see that she speaks more directly because she now uses “I” and no more speaks about the past (the word “now” is often used). She is no more subtle and she expresses clearly her point. From now on, the vocabulary used is stronger and the ton more convincing. She also uses a lot of comparison which is a good way to bring out arguments. She adopts an inclusionary vision, in other words she wants to demonstrate that everyone should join the movement: “this challenge applies to all of us”.

I have noticed some particularities in her probatio. First, she divides it with five strong arguments, clearly identifiable thanks to catchphrases as “the first issue”, “the third” or “a fifth”. But the most surprising point is that she mixes the probatio and the refutatio (refutation). Though it does not disturb the general comprehension, some extracts of the refutatio are too much accusing according to me and can reverse the expected effect of it because it goes against her request of tolerance, in some extent. Another important aspect of this part is situated at the end of this part. The last three paragraphs of the probatio are addressed to a certain part of the audience: “to the leaders”, “to people of all nations” and “to LGBT men and women”. In each paragraph, Hilary Clinton acts as a real leader and gives special directions. The point of that is to show that everyone has a particular role to play in this fight. None the less, I find it regrettable that she seems to reduce the implication of the LGBT population. In the last paragraph of her probatio, Hilary Clinton tries to comfort them with “people around the globe are working hard to support you and to bring an end to the injustices and dangers you face”. However it is unfortunate that she does not motivate them as she motivated the other parts of the population. Because of that, the LGBT must feel considered as powerless although it is mainly their fight, even if they need help from the others.

Finally the conclusion (or peroratio) is one of the most important parts of a rhetorical speech. It is the occasion to sum up the arguments and request the audience to do something. As it is the crescendo of the speech, the way of speaking must be more dramatic. Hilary Clinton does not respect totally this aspect of the peroratio. One the one hand, she asks the audience for acting in favor of Human Rights and do not stay immobile. Plus, the fact that she employs “us” during the latest sentences highlights that it is a collective fight, and that team spirit is required. But on the other hand, the explanation of the implementation of current policies disturbs the rest of her speech. She requests for fight but also explains that a lot of policies adopted, as the situation is almost fixed now. To my personal point of view, this part of the speech would be more effective on the narratio, just after the background history. She could express after it that a lot of progress should be necessary to a full achievement. Moreover, her way of speaking appears a little confusing. In fact, she is now using an exclusionary vision by repeating several time “right side” as if there existed a wrong side on this fight. This change of vision obscures her message and what she expects from the audience.


Based on the description of the two leaders as persons and their leadership, what I have learned myself that I would like to bring with me in my following career as a potential leader?

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