Meaning from Within: Possible Selves and Personal Meaning of Charismatic and Non-Charismatic Leaders

By Sosik, John J. | Journal of Leadership Studies, Spring 2000 | Go to article overview

Meaning from Within: Possible Selves and Personal Meaning of Charismatic and Non-Charismatic Leaders


Sosik, John J., Journal of Leadership Studies


Executive Summary

The leadership literature has identified both the leader's self-concept and personal meaning as sources of motivation for charismatic and non-charismatic leaders. However, while several versions of charismatic and non-charismatic leadership theory predict such effects, none of them explains how the content of a leader's personal meaning is influenced by the self-concept. This article seeks to advance leadership theory by addressing this fundamental problem. Based on theories of possible selves, personal meaning and charismatic leadership, this article describes how a leader's thoughts about his or her potential and future may influence the personal meaning of charismatic and non-charismatic leaders.

The charismatic leader is often described as an extraordinary individual who exercises diffuse and intense influence over others through his or her values, beliefs, and behaviors. Charismatic influence stems from visionary and inspirational messages, change agency, follower development, symbolism, and appeal to the values of followers. Constructive forms of charismatic leadership may result in new heights of individual and collective achievements, whereas destructive forms may result in individual and/or collective ruin (Conger & Kanungo, 1998). These processes and outcomes are in stark contrast with those of non-charismatic leaders who rely on exchange relationships, goals, and rewards to achieve expected levels of performance (Bass, 1990).

One important aspect of charismatic leadership is the leader's self-image (Gardner & Avolio, 1998). Self-image encompasses how the leader describes himself or herself in terms of needs, beliefs, values and personal meaning. Provision of meaning is central to self-concept-based (e.g., Shamir, House & Arthur, 1995), psychoanalytic (e.g., Eisenstadt, 1968; Kets de Vries, 1988; Zaleznik, 1974) and organizational (e.g., House, 1977; Smircich & Morgan, 1982 explanations of charismatic leadership. A common theme in these theories is that followers who experience high levels of personal or collective stress search for leaders who give meaning to their experiences. However, there is no self-concept based explanation to account for the sources and content of personal meaning used by leaders to provide meaning to followers. The purpose of this article is to offer a theoretical basis for explaining how self-conceptions relate to the personal meaning of charismatic leaders and noncharismatic leaders.

The Self-Concept as a Source of Personal Meaning

Personal meaning can be defined as that which makes one's life most important, coherent and worthwhile. The extensive literature on personal meaning (see Wong, 1998 for a comprehensive review) is derived from seminal work on purpose-in-life (PIL) by Franld (1992). PIL represents a positive attitude toward possessing a future-oriented self-transcendent goal in life. PIL can be described in terms of its depth (strength) and type (content) of meaning associated with the goal.

Empirical work in humanistic/existential psychology (e.g., Beike & Niedenthal, 1998; Farran, Keane-Hagerty, Salloway, Kupferer, & Wilken, 1991) suggests that personal meaning (e.g., PIL) may stem from the self-concept. The self-concept represents the "compository of life span experiences, motivational states, and action orientations" (Cross & Markus, 1991, p. 230). The self-concept is a complex dynamic phenomenon containing multiple aspects (i.e., past, present and future self-conceptions), which are ordered in a hierarchy based on salience (i.e., the strength or intensity over the individual) and/or situtational importance. Because the entire self system is too enormous to be held in memory at once, the most salient and accessible self-conceptions are contained in the working self-concept, which Markus and Nurius (1986) defined as "the set of self-conceptions that are presently active in thought and memory" (p. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Meaning from Within: Possible Selves and Personal Meaning of Charismatic and Non-Charismatic Leaders
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.