Article | McKinsey Quarterly | January 2012

How Leaders Kill Meaning at Work

by Teresa Amabile and Steven J. Kramer


Senior executives routinely undermine creativity, productivity, and commitment by damaging the inner work lives of their employees in four avoidable ways. This article is based on analysis of hundreds of work diaries from professionals describing everyday events that involved high-level managers in their companies. The analysis uncovered four major type of actions that reduce meaningfulness in the work and, as a result, lead to more negative emotions, lower intrinsic motivation, and less favorable perceptions of the organization--with negative consequences for performance. These actions include signaling low expectations for innovation, switching strategic direction too frequently, miscoordination of organizational systems, and vague, unrealistically grandiose goals. The research also revealed ways in which top managers can avoid these traps.

Keywords: Leadership; Creativity; Performance Productivity; Motivation and Incentives; Innovation Strategy; Performance; Strategic Planning; Leading Change; Balanced Scorecard; Mission and Purpose;


Amabile, Teresa, and Steven J. Kramer. "How Leaders Kill Meaning at Work." McKinsey Quarterly, no. 1 (January 2012): 124–131.