Alvesson, Mats; Martin Blom & Stefan Sveningsson – Reflexive Leadership

  • reflex/ reflection/ reflexivity. This old distinction resurfaces in the book of Mats Alvesson & al: “Reflexive leadership. Organizing in an imperfect world” (2017). The “reflex” is pointing to “no thinking at all” (only acting); the “reflection” is saying that is a “thinking inside the box” (just saying); while the “reflexivity” is for “thinking outside the box” (thinking). More on this worldview (Weltanschauung) in the entry “cubes” below. See also image 2
  • leader/ follower/ other. These are the main three perceptual positions: 1st position (Ego or “my own eyes”) is occupied by the “leadership” concept and its 5P metaphorical construction. The 2nd position (Alter or the “other’s shoes”) is the place for the “followership” ideas – especially the 3 visions of: 1) leadership as projection and transference; 2) leadership as attribution; and 3) leadership as categorization, comparison and identity. Finally, the 3rd position (Other, i.e. the “fly on the wall”) is the center for the 6M arranged vertically (the relationship between leaders/ followers and superiors) and horizontally (the relationship between leaders/ followers and collaborators). Two notes have to be stated here: on the one hand, these three perceptual positions are not the only ones possible (and this is the main idea of the entry of the “hopscotch”). On the other hand, these three perceptual positions could be in a shallow or deep relationship: they could be a reflex (like acting); they could be a reflection (like saying); or they could be in a reflexivity mode (like thinking) – and this was discussed previously in the entry of “reflex/ reflection/ reflexivity”. See image 1
  • cubes. The aphorism saying that “All the world is boxes (cubes)” is used in creativity – even though it may sounds strange – as the well-known mantra: “Inside the box” and “Outside the box”. For inside one cube is the same as outside other cube; as well as outside one cube is the same as inside other cube. These expressions are easy to understand if we imagine that the world is cubes all the way down, one inside another. This regression ad infinitum was well known in the time of William James, Thomas Aquinas, Aristotle and even Zeno of Elea – in fact, all over the history of ideas of the humanity. For instance, William James is saying that the world is rocks all the way down: “the old woman in the story (…)  described the world as resting on a rock, and then explained that rock to be supported by another rock, and finally when pushed with questions said it was <rocks all the way down> (…)” (William James, 1882: 82). It seems that he also said that the world is turtles all the way down: “<I’ve got a better theory> said the little old lady. <And what is that, madam?> inquired James politely. <That we live on a crust of earth which is on the back of a giant turtle>. Not wishing to demolish this absurd little theory by bringing to bear the masses of scientific evidence he had at this command, James decided to gently dissuade his opponent by making her see some of the inadequacies of her position. <If your theory is correct, madam>, he asked, <what does this turtle stand on?> <You’re a very clever man, Mr. James, and that’s a very good question>, replied the little old lady, <but I have an answer to it. And it’s this: the first turtle stands on the back of a second, far larger, turtle, who stands directly under him>. <But what does this second turtle stand on?> persisted James patiently. To this, the little old lady crowed triumphantly, <It’s no use, Mr. James – it’s turtles all the way down>” (John Robert Ross, 1967: iv-v). Going further in the ancient times, we could find a couple of paradoxes on movement used for specific and different purposes, even if they are coining the same story (that the world is in the same time dynamic and static, ad infinitum). Primo, Thomas Aquinas, in Summa theologiae, presented 5 proofs (5 ways) for the existence of God and the first proof is telling the story of the mover and moved: “Some things in the world are certainly in process of change: this we plainly see. Now anything in process of change is being changed by something else (…) Consequently, a thing in process of change cannot itself cause that same change; it cannot change itself. Of necessity therefore anything in process of change is being changed by something else. Moreover, this something else, if in process of change, is itself being changed by yet another thing; and this last by another” (Thomas Aquinas, 2006, II, Q2, A3: 13-15). Secundo, Aristotle, in Physics, trying to prove the existence of a first principle that both is unmoved and is moving all the other things in the universe, considers the sequence of “that which is moved should always be moved by something else that is itself moved by something else: so there will be [no] end to the series” (Aristotle, 1908, Physics, Book VIII, 257a 26-28). Tertio, Zeno of Elea, in order to prove the eternity of the mind and the contradictions of the senses, has developed a couple of paradoxes, of much importance for this presentation being four of them: 1) the arrow, 2) the stadium, 3) the dichotomy and 4) Achilles and the tortoise. These paradoxes are constructed by the same insight, in the same fashion; so for lack of space, I’ll mention only the fourth of them: “The second [paradox] is the so-called <Achilles>, and it amounts to this, that in a race the quickest runner can never overtake the slowest, since the pursuer must first reach the point whence the pursued started, so that the slower must always hold a lead” (Aristotle, 1908, Physics, Book VI, 239b 12-16). See image 3
  • hopscotch. This is a play used for mastering a certain number of perceptual positions, the 1st, the 2nd and the 3rd being the most known today. The perceptual positions could have the shape of something animate (like: the snail, the snakes, the man & the woman, etc) or something inanimate (like: the house, the ladder, the chain, etc). Also, in between the animate/ inanimate shapes, the hopscotch could be drawn using the elements: the air, the water, the earth and so on (for instance: a river). The meaning of this game is unknown, even though I’ve found four hypothesis in the history of ideas (there could be more than four however). In the first place, Alan Stanier (2008) says that the marker is “the seed corn”, while the squares of the diagram are “the pits”. In fact, this game symbolizes the safe retrieval of seed corn from an Iron Age pit. In the second place, George Verve Irving (1870) & Janice Weaver (2012) advance the idea that Roman soldiers were travelling across the squares of the court, over a hundred feet long, in full armor and carrying their kit on their backs. In this manner, they were building the cobbled roads connecting the various parts of their empire. In the third place, J. W. Crombi (1886), citing another source – namely Pitré’s “Guiocchi Franchuilleschi” – presents the following equation: a) “the marker = the sun”, and b) “the squares of the diagram = the signs of the Zodiac”. For Pitré, playing the hopscotch is a cosmic phenomenon like the sun that is passing through the signs of the Zodiac. And, in the last place, another hypothesis about the meaning of this game is advanced also by J. W. Crombi (1886). Being unable to anathemise an ancient ritual observed at pagan populations, the Church assimilated it, overlaying with Christian eschatological symbolism. This eschatology represents the progress of the soul through the future states – i.e. the seven stages of Heaven. So, in this hypothesis, the squares of the diagram are “the stages of Heaven”, and “the soul” is the marker. See image 2

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  • Mats Alvesson, Martin Blom & Stefan Sveningsson (2017): “Reflexive leadership. Organizing in an imperfect world”, Sage Publications Ltd
  • Thomas Aquinas (2006): “Summa Theologiae”, Cambridge University Press, Volume II, Translated into English by Timothy McDermott
  • Aristotle (1908): “The works of Aristotle”, Oxford University Press, Volume II, Translated into English under the editorship of  W. D. Ross & J. A. Smith
  • J. W. Crombie (1886): “History of the game of hop-scotch”, The Journal of the Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, vol 15, no 1, pp. 403-408
  • George Verve Irving (1980): “Notes on camps and earthworks near St. Alban’s”, The Journal of the British Archaeological Association, MDCCCLXX, pp. 236-270
  • William James (1882): “Rationality, activity and faith”, The Princeton Review, 2 (July-December), pp. 58-86
  • John Robert Ross (1967): “Constraints on variables in syntax”, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Alan Stanier (2008): “Vestiges of pre-Christian ritual in the game of hopscotch”, (Accessed 16.04.2018)
  • Janice Weaver (2012): “The A to Z everyday things”, Tundra Books

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