Ultimately, Iacocca got his guarantees. He won by artfully employing rules for political leaders:
• Political leaders clarify what they want and what they can get. Political leaders are realists. They don’t let hope cloud judgment. Iacocca translated Chrysler’s survival into the realistic goal of getting enough help to eke out a couple of dif!cult years. He was always careful to ask not for money but for loan guarantees. He insisted that it would cost taxpayers nothing because Chrysler would pay back its loans.
• Political leaders assess the distribution of power and interests. Political leaders map the political terrain by thinking carefully about the key players, their interests, and their power, asking: Whose support do I need? How do I go about getting it? Who are my opponents? Howmuch power do they have?What can I do to reduce or overcome their opposition? Is this battle winnable? Iacocca needed the support of Chrysler’s employees and unions, but they had little choice. The key players were Congress and the public. Congress would vote for the guarantees only if Iacocca’s proposal had suf!cient popular support.
• Political leaders build linkages to key stakeholders. Political leaders focus their attention on building relationships and networks. They recognize the value of personal contact and face-to-face conversations.
• Iacocca worked hard to build linkages.He spent hoursmeetingwithmembers of Congress and testifying before congressional committees. After he met with 31 Italian American members of Congress, all but one voted for the loan guarantees. Said Iacocca, “Some were Republicans, some were Democrats, but in this case they voted the straight Italian ticket. We were desperate, and we had to play every angle” (Iacocca and Novak, 1984, p. 221).
• Political leaders persuade “rst, negotiate second, and coerce only if necessary. Wise political leaders recognize that power is essential to their effectiveness; they also know to use it judiciously. William P. Kelly, a veteran public administrator, put it well:
“Power is like the old Esso [gasoline] ad—a tiger in your tank. But you can’t let the tiger out, you just let people hear him roar. You use power terribly sparingly
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because it has a short half-life. You let people know you have it and hope that you don’t have to use it” (Ridout and Fenn, 1974, p. 10).
Sophisticated political leaders know that in”uence begins with understanding others’ concerns and interests. Iacocca knew that he had to address a widespread fear that federal guarantees would throw taxpayer dollars down a rat hole. He used a big ad campaign to respond to public concerns. Does Chrysler have a future? Yes, he said, we’ve been here 54 years, and we’ll be here another 54 years. Would the loan guarantees be a dangerous precedent? No, the government already carried $400 billion in other loan guarantees, and in any event, Chrysler was going to pay its loans back. Iacocca also spoke directly to Congressional concerns with data painting a grim picture of jobs lost in every district if Chrysler went under.
Iacocca got what he wanted—enough breathing room for Chrysler to pull out of its tailspin. The company repaid its loans, ignited the minivan craze, and had many pro!table years before the return of bad times in the 1990s (which led to a sale to German automaker Daimler Benz in 1998 and then to a private equity !rm in 2007).
Prophet or Zealot? Symbolic Leadership The symbolic frame represents a fourth turn of the leadership kaleidoscope, portraying organization as both theater and temple. As theater, an organization creates a stage on which actors play their roles and hope to communicate the right impression to their audience. As temple, an organization is a community of faith, bonded by shared beliefs, traditions, myths, rituals, and ceremonies.
Symbolically, leaders lead through both actions and words as they interpret and reinterpret experience. What are the real lessons of history? What is really happening in the world? What will the future bring? What mission is worthy of our loyalty and investment? Data and analysis offer few compelling answers to such questions. Symbolic leaders interpret experience so as to impart meaning and purpose through phrases of beauty and passion. Franklin D. Roosevelt reassured a nation in the midst of its deepest economic depression that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” At almost the same time, Adolf Hitler assured Germans that their severe economic and social problems were the result of betrayal by Jews and communists. Germans, he said, were a superior people who could still ful!ll their nation’s destiny of world mastery. Though many saw the destructive paranoia in Hitler’s message, millions of fearful citizens were swept up in Hitler’s bold vision of German preeminence.
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Symbolic leaders follow a consistent set of practices and scripts:
• Symbolic leaders lead by example. They demonstrate their commitment and courage by plunging into the fray. In taking risks and holding nothing back, they reassure and inspire others. When Ann Mulcahy took the top job at Xerox in 2001, the building was burning and few thought she had much chance of putting the !re out. Her !nancial advisors told her bankruptcy was the only choice. Determined to save the company she loved, Mulcahy became a tireless, visible cheerleader working to get the support she needed to make Xerox a success: “Constantly on the move, Mulcahy met with bankers, reassured customers, galvanized employees. She sometimes visited three cities a day” (Morris, 2003, p. 1).
• They use symbols to capture attention.When Diana Lam became principal of the Mackey Middle School in Boston, she faced a substantial challenge. Mackey had the typical problems of an urban school: decaying physical plant, poor discipline, racial tension, disgruntled teachers, and limited resources (Kaufer and Leader, 1987a). In such a situation, a symbolic leader looks for something visible and dramatic to signal that change is on the way. During the summer before assuming her duties, Lam wrote personal letters to every teacher requesting individual meetings. She met teachers wherever they wanted (in one case driving for 2 hours). She asked them how they felt about the school and what changes they wanted. Then she recruited her family to repaint the school’s front door and some of its ugliest classrooms. “When school opened, students and staff members immediately saw that things were going to be different, if only symbolically. Perhaps even more important, staff members received a subtle challenge to make a contribution themselves” (Kaufer and Leader, 1987b, p. 3).
When Iacocca became president of Chrysler, one of his !rst steps was to announce that he was reducing his salary to $1 a year. “I did it for good, cold pragmatic reasons. I wanted our employees and our suppliers to be thinking: ‘I can follow a guy who sets that kind of example’” (Iacocca and Novak, 1984, pp. 229–230).
• Symbolic leaders frame experience. In a world of uncertainty and ambiguity, a key function of symbolic leadership is to offer plausible and hopeful interpretations of experience. President John F. Kennedy channeled youthful exuberance into the Peace Corps and other initiatives with his stirring inaugural challenge: “Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.” When Martin Luther King Jr. spoke at the March onWashington in 1963 and gave his extraordinary “I Have a Dream” speech, his opening line was, “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.”
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He could have interpreted the event in a number of other ways: “We are here because nothing else has worked”; “We are here because it’s summer and it’s a good day to be outside.” Each version is about as accurate as the next, but accuracy is not the issue. King’s assertion was bold and inspiring; it told members of the audience that they were making history by their presence at a momentous event.
• Symbolic leaders communicate a vision.One powerful way in which a leader can interpret experience is by distilling and disseminating a vision—a persuasive and hopeful image of the future. A vision needs to address both the challenges of the present and the hopes and values of followers. Vision is particularly important in times of crisis and uncertainty. When people are in pain, when they are confused and uncertain, or when they feel despair and hopelessness, they desperately seek meaning and hope. In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, Donald Trump’s vow to “Make America Great Again” was accompanied by very few policy speci!cs, but that did not trouble millions of voters who longed to see their country get back on the right track.
Where does such vision come from? One view is that leaders create a vision and then persuade others to accept it (Bass, 1985; Bennis and Nanus, 1985). A different take is that leaders discover and articulate a vision that is already there, even if unexpressed (Cleveland, 1985). Kouzes and Posner put it well: “Corporate leaders know very well that what seeds the vision are those imperfectly formed images in the marketing department about what the customers really wanted and those inarticulate mumblings from the manufacturing folks about the poor product quality, not crystal ball gazing in upper levels of the corporate stratosphere. The best leaders are the best followers. They pay attention to those weak signals and quickly respond to changes in the corporate course” (1987, p. 114).
Leadership is a two-way street. No amount of charisma or rhetorical skill can sell a vision that re”ects only the leader’s values and needs. Effective symbolic leadership is possible only for those who understand the deepest values and most pressing concerns of their constituents. But leaders still play a critical role in articulating a vision by bringing a unique, personal blend of history, poetry, passion, and courage in distilling and shaping direction. Most important, they can choose which stories to tell to express a shared quest.
• Symbolic leaders tell stories. Symbolic leaders often embed their vision in a mythical story—a story about “us” and about “our” past, present, and future. “Us” could be a school’s faculty, a plant’s employees, the people of Thailand, or any other audience a leader hopes to reach. The past is usually golden, a time of noble purposes, of great deeds,
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