May 01, 2024
2:00 p.m. ET
This event is for current members of our Community of Scholars. Not yet a member? Join here: https://myumi.ch/dkxRG.
Elizabeth Trinh, University of Michigan
Michael Pratt, Boston College
Heather C. Vough, George Mason University
Anchored or Adrift: An Inductive Study of Stability and Change in the Work Meanings of Leaders
Organizational leaders are ‘architects of meaning,’ tasked with crafting work environments that facilitate meaningful work for their employees. While existing research has examined leaders’ practices that imbue work with meaning for their workers, less is known about how leaders cultivate and sustain their own sense of meaningful work and how this influences their capacity to instill meaning in the work of others. We investigate these underexplored dynamics through longitudinal interviews with 43 nonprofit leaders. During unique conditions that disrupted employees’ sense of work meaning, leaders’ personal work meaning evolved with their efforts to re-establish meaningful work environments for their employees. In their attempts to restore meaningfulness by crafting meaning-making spaces, leaders underwent a reflection process, gauging employees’ reactions and assessing the perceived outcomes of their efforts. Leaders who noted positive outcomes engaged in verification, solidifying their sense of work meaning through meaning fortification. However, observing particularly negative outcomes prompted leaders to engage in justification or reckoning, the latter potentially destabilizing their work meaning and leading to meaning questioning. This questioning could stabilize or transform a leader’s work meaning, culminating in meaning transformation. Building on these findings, we develop a novel model in which leaders’ own sense of work meaning is dynamically influenced by their endeavors to infuse employees’ work with significance and purpose. We find that leaders’ experiences of meaning in work emerges as an interactive process that is deeply entwined with their employees’ experiences within meaning-making spaces.
Research is the heart of Positive Organizational Scholarship (POS), and we want to make sure that we support each other in developing high quality research. To that end, we created the Adderley Positive Research Incubator for sharing and encouraging POS-related research ideas that are at various stages of development.