Cultural myths and leadership in Russia

Throughout history, Russia's leaders have recognized myths as effective instruments for reinforcing their influence.

by Stanislav Shekshnia, Sheila Puffer and Daniel McCarthy
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

Understanding the foundations of mythical Russian leadership and how it translates into contemporary corporate folklore is therefore essential for those who would do business with the country's captains of industry, asserts Stanislav Shekshnia, Affiliate Professor of Entrepreneurship at INSEAD.

Starting with an absorbing account of traditional Protoslavic folklore and its relationship with Russia's leadership mythology, his research chronicles the state-sponsored myths of the 19th and 20th centuries and their influence on Russian leadership. It shows how current Russian leadership myths incorporate aspects from the past as well as the present business and political environments, and analyses their implications for tomorrow's leaders.

It was under Stalin that leadership mythology became institutionalized as a state-sponsored activity, reaching an unprecedented scale and impact. Far from abandoning myth-making in post-Communist Russia, Vladimir Putin and members of the new Russian elite have created their own myths, skillfully manipulating them to promote their personal interests and professional agendas.

Shekshnia shows how the rich business leadership mythology which has emerged over the past two decades has been actively employed by corporate leaders to influence employee behavior, reinforce authority, and develop future leaders. A powerful blend of fact and fiction, it serves to enhance the corporate leader's standing among numerous constituencies including customers, suppliers, business partners, investors, government officials, even the general public.

He cites a number of contemporary cases where corporate bosses have incorporated myths into their repertoire, combining elements of traditional mythology with modern attributes more suited to the contemporary business environment such as delivering excellent results and demonstrating superior ability.

But while they can be a powerful instrument in enhancing a leader's image, myths can also be counterproductive if they perpetuate outmoded behavior which is not attuned to the new business environment. Shekshnia insists on the need to use them with care and manage them effectively.

Source:
Cultural myths and leadership in Russia
Stanislav Shekshnia, Sheila Puffer and Daniel McCarthy
INSEAD 2007

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