Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Leadership PhD

First Advisor

Shirley A. Freed

Second Advisor

Lynne Young

Third Advisor

Erich Baumgartner


Leadership literature contains ample recommendations that leaders need to have a vision and be competent in visioning. A small subset of that literature recommends that leaders communicate their visions. There are few resources, however, that guide leaders how to communicate their visions. This study consists of an application of Systemic Functional Linguistics (SFL), including Genre Theory, and an extension of SFL, Appraisal Theory, on four visionary speeches in the field of political discourse—Lincoln‘s Gettysburg Address, Churchill‘s ―We Shall Fight on the Beaches,‖ Kennedy‘s inaugural, and Martin Luther King Jr.‘s ―I Have a Dream‖—to discover how these leaders were able to utilize the rich resources of language to communicate their visions in such a compelling manner that their listeners and followers were willing to cast aside their own individual desires and implement the vision for the common good. These four speeches were selected as the data set because of their ―recognizability‖ factor and because they were delivered in turbulent times in which great visions were needed to effect great change. This study first synthesized the recommendations in leadership literature on what features should be present in an effective vision. When the four speeches were then compared to those ―benchmark‖ features, only three of the four speeches were found to contain all the recommended benchmark features; Lincoln‘s Gettysburg Address, perhaps because of its brevity, did not contain some aspects of the benchmarks. Then I conducted a thorough linguistic analysis of the speeches through the lenses of SFL and Appraisal Theory to discover how language enabled the expression of the features of an effective vision. From this linguistic analysis, I found that the four orators used the Appraisal resources of judgment, both positive and negative, to communicate their stance on what was good and what was bad to their listener-followers. Not surprisingly, we were depicted in positive judgment terms while they were depicted in negative judgment terms. The resources of appreciation enabled the orators to refer to those things that would support their vision of the future in positive terms while those expressed in negative terms would not have a place in the envisioned future. The resources of amplification, both augmentation and enrichment, and circumstance of location were found to have facilitated the expression of imagery in the four speeches and the also to have enabled the ability of the orator to communicate the emotion around his personal commitment to his vision. The resources of engagement, particularly proclamation, and Mood choices furthered the orator‘s ability to communicate certainty and commitment to his vision through the exclusion of alternative voices from the texts. Through the subsequent application of Genre Theory to the four texts, eight common stages, each with its own obligatory statements and common linguistic features, were found. These stages were labeled as follows: situational positioning of the past (then); situational positioning of the present (now); a statement identifying the purpose of the speech; a synopsis of the orator‘s vision or goal—how the future should be; statement(s) on how the vision/goal might be implemented or the change effected; the timetable for needed change and an expression of urgency; statement(s) of the orator‘s personal commitment to the vision/changes needed; and, finally, a call to action or the issuing of a rallying cry. Future research will confirm the finding of a new genre of visionary speech.

Subject Area

Leadership in linguistics, Linguistic analysis (Linguistics), Speeches, addresses, etc., Leadership.


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