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Leading by Analogy


Freud argued that analogy is the weakest form of reasoning. In this paper, we take the extreme counterview, not only arguing that analogy is a powerful form of reasoning, but that it is a key tool by which leaders motivate others, solve problems, and learn from experience. We base our assertion on scientific investigations of how human thought and behavior is influenced by analogies, all the way from the classroom to the boardroom. Behavioral scientists have long recognized the importance of analogical reasoning. Psychologist William James (1890) noted that a native talent for perceiving analogies is the leading fact in genius of every order (p. 530) and Spearman (1923) claimed that all intellectual acts involve analogical reasoning. In this paper, we argue that leaders use analogies to lead and influence people. Some leaders use analogy deliberately and consciously; but many are unaware of their use of analogy. We discuss the effects that analogies have on reasoning and decision-making. We provide scientific evidence of how managers and leaders reason analogically (and where the stumbling blocks are). We also provide our own analysis of Fortune 100 leaders' use of analogies.


Book Chapter


Leigh Thompson, Ashleigh S. Rosette

Date Published



Thompson, Leigh, and Ashleigh S. Rosette. 2004. Leading by Analogy.


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