Chapter | Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice | 2010

Revisiting the Meaning of Leadership

by Joel Podolny, Rakesh Khurana and Marya Hill-Popper

Abstract

During the past 50 years, organizational scholarship on leadership has shifted from a focus on the significance of leadership for meaning-making to the significance of leadership for economic performance. This shift has been problematic for two reasons. First, it has given rise to numerous conceptual difficulties that now plague the study of leadership. Second, there is now comparatively little attention given to the question of how individuals find meaning in the economic sphere even though this question should arguably be one of the most important questions for organizational scholarship. This chapter discusses several reasons for the shift, arguing that one of the most important has been the lack of a clear definition and operationalization of meaningful economic activity. As a first step to redressing this shift, we offer a definition and operationalization of meaningful action, and we propose a typology of executive behaviors as a foundation for a systematic exploration of the meaning-making capacity of leaders. We conclude with a discussion of the relationship between the capacity of leaders to infuse meaning and the capacity of leaders to impact on performance.

Keywords: Communication Intention and Meaning; Economics; Leadership; Performance Improvement; Behavior;

Citation:

Podolny, Joel, Rakesh Khurana, and Marya Hill-Popper. "Revisiting the Meaning of Leadership." Chap. 3 in Handbook of Leadership Theory and Practice, edited by Nitin Nohria and Rakesh Khurana. Harvard Business Press, 2010.