Understanding Symbolic Leadership – Nu Leadership Series

“ Too many leaders act as if the sheep… their people… are there for the benefit of the shepherd, not that the shepherd has responsibility for the sheep.”
Ken Blanchard

Let’s explore how leaders with value alignments are formed in organizations. Organizational leaders find themselves as institutional advocates; they influence how followers perceive organizational values. In my first professional job, I worked for a great organization with seasoned veterans. My division director met with his staff monthly and always valued our opinions. Although not every division director within my organization was that open-minded, I found myself having a high regard for the organization because of my director. My director had become a Symbolic Leader.

Johnson and Hackman, leadership gurus, argued that symbolic leaders concern themselves with more than the routine operations of organizations. These leaders are attentive to the assumptions, values, and symbol that reflect the organizational culture. How leaders interact with workers then becomes a function of organizational maturity. During the developing stages of an organization, leaders make the majority of the decisions while instilling teamwork.

Unfortunately, the founder often has to hire people who share his cause but might not share in some of his values. When the organization is mature, leaders become change agents who may challenge organizational assumptions and reinforce values. Therefore, leaders can become shining symbols of organizational values. Start today!


Hackman, M. and Johnson, C. (2004). Leadership: A communication perspective.
Long Grove, IL: Waveland Press, Inc.

© 2006 by Daryl D. Green