chapter  8
32 Pages

Leadership as the Orchestration and Improvisation of Dialogue: Cognitive and Communicative Skills in Conversations Among Leaders and Subordinates

ByMarvin S. Cohen

Communication is not simply a medium through which leadership happens to be exercised; it is part of its substance. Leaders must communicate-and be seen to communicate-in order to influence the beliefs, actions, and emotions of others in pursuit of organizational goals. Even when communication is not an objective, leader actions often lead to expectations and commitments for both the leader and others in the organization to whom the action becomes known (Weick, 2001). Nevertheless, most theories of leadership pay little explicit attention to communication (Bass, 1990; Yukl, 1998), and communication specialists have not systematically studied features of everyday discourse that might characterize effective leadership

(e.g., Drew & Heritage, 1992; van Dijk, 1997). The strategy in leadership theory has been to hypothesize broad leadership traits (e.g., intelligence, sociability, selfconfidence) or leadership styles (e.g., directive, participative, transformational) and the conditions under which the traits or styles tend to be effective (e.g., subordinates with high vs. low motivation or competence). This macro level of analysis tells us little about the expression of traits or styles in concrete social action, how they affect team performance in real-world contexts, or the underlying cognitive skills (Barge, 1994; Northouse, 2001). Measures of traits or styles are usually based on global subjective impressions averaged across subordinates rather than observed behaviors in specific situations. Relatively static traits and styles distract attention from the cognitive processes that are responsible for flexibility, improvisation, and tradeoffs in dynamic situations (Barge, 1994). The measures rely on prior identification of leaders by their formal position in a hierarchy rather than by their actual behavior and influence or by their knowledge and mastery of specific cognitive skills and communicative strategies. Not surprisingly, findings are often too general and ill defined to provide the concrete guidance we need for leader development.