Philosophy of Management

Volume 13, Issue 2, 2014

Concrete Abstractions

Halvor Nordby
Pages 75-100

Management Communication in Leadership Relations: A Philosophical Model of Understanding and Contextual Agreement

It has been a fundamental assumption in management theory that communication is a key condition for successful management. This assumption has been linked to Habermas’ model of communicative rationality, but it is very difficult for managers to implement this model in real-life leadership relations. The reason is that practical obstacles, resource limitations and knowledge gaps make it impossible to achieve Habermas’ ideal aim of ‘shared horizons’. The article argues that it is possible for managers to meet fundamental communication conditions in employee interaction and other forms of leadership relations if the holistic concept of a shared horizon is replaced with an idea of contextual agreement. Within this alternative conceptual framework, a key strategic aim for managers is to communicate as well as realistically possible how organisational strategies and action-guiding principles are justified. This presupposes that managers are able to uncover ‘hidden’ language meaning and transcend contextual power relations. Within a speech act theory of meaning, the article articulates three basic communication conditions that can function as conceptual tools for achieving these communicative aims.