The Organization as a Person: Utilizing Metaphoric Analysis to Transform Organizations Leadership Advance Online– Issue XV, Winter 2008
by Antonio G. Marchesi
What is an organization? Is it a place, a process or a person? Individuals at all levels of employment often wrestle with what many deem to be the daunting task of succinctly articulating the nature of the organization. Countless texts exist that attempt to provide a model for describing the construct and function of organizations. However, depending upon one’s worldview, tolerance for abstraction and personal presuppositions, many conflicting perspectives may exist within a single organization. Most leaders emphasize matters related to organizational behavior over those that help to elucidate corporate identity. The work loosely informs identity rather than vice versa. Organizations that hope to maintain a competitive edge in the 21st century, while resisting the temptation to downsize, may arrive at the startling realization that they are suffering from dissociative identity disorder. For those organizations hoping to initiate a plan to remedy or to prevent this state of being, alternative thinking or experimentation is required. The solution to this malady may not be as easily accessible, organized and available as those conveniently found in the business section of the local Barnes and Noble bookstore. Despite the reluctance that some leaders may have to delve deeply into a critical analysis of the relationship of organizational identity to the climate and output of the organization, Margaret Wheatley (2007) makes a strong case for its absolute necessity: Mort Meyerson, the former chairman of Perot Systems, said in an interview in Fast Company magazine several years ago, that the primary task of being a leader is to make sure that the organization knows itself. That is, the leader’s task is to call people together often, so that everyone gains clarity about what they’re doing, who they’ve become and how Leadership Advance Online – Issue XV, Winter 2008
© 2008 School of Global Leadership & Entrepreneurship Regent University, ISSN 1554-3757, www.regent.edu/lao
The Organization as a Person: Utilizing Metaphoric Analysis to Transform Organizations
they’re changing as they do their work. This includes information available from customers, markets, history, and mistakes. A good leader supports a continuous conversation about organizational identity and how it is changing as it does its work in a changing world. Organizations that are clear at their core work form congruence, not coercion. People feel free to explore new activities, new ventures, and customers if they feel it makes sense for the organization. It is a strange and promising paradox: clarity about who we are as an organization or team creates freedom for individual contributions. People exercise that freedom in service to the organization and, as they develop their capacity to respond and change, this becomes a capability of the whole organization. (p. 69) Organizations as Metaphors My unpublished article titled, The highly human side of leadership, discussed the impossibility to gauge organizational reality and enter the decision-making process, free from carrying our personal baggage with us to the table of inquiry (Marchesi, 2008). Factors such as our life experiences, education and gender all influence our perceptions. I am reminded of a great book that I read recently called, Mindset: The new psychology of success, by Carol Dweck (2006). It discussed the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth-oriented mindset; and how our particular disposition characterizes how we frame challenges, failures and other experiences. These divergent positions reminded me of the polarity that exists between two popular metaphors used to describe organizations: the machine and the organism. One (the machine) is fixed, as it only functions within the paradigm provided by its programmer, while the...
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