Meaning Form Within Charismatic and Non Charismatic Leaders

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  • 7/29/2019 Meaning Form Within Charismatic and Non Charismatic Leaders


    Meaning From WithinPossible Selves and Personal Meanin

    of Charismatic an

    Non-Charismatic Leader

    John J. SosPennsylvania State Univers

    About theAuthor: John J. Sosik, Ph.D. is anAssociate Professor of Management and Organizaat the



    ValleySchool of Graduate Professional Studie

    suburban Philadelphia. He received his Ph.D. in management from the State University ofNew Yat Binghamton and is engaged in research in the areas of transformational/charismatic leadersface-to-face and computer-mediated group processes and outcomes, and mentoring. Corresponderegarding this article may be sent via electronic mail to

    Executive SummaryThe leadership literature has identified both the leaders self-concept and persomeaning as sources of motivation for charismatic and non-charismatic leadeHowever, while several versions of charismatic and non-charismatic leaders

    theorypredict such effects, none of them explains how the content of a leade

    personal meaning is influenced by the self-concept. This article seeks to advaleadership theory by addressing this fundamental problem. Based on theoriespossible selves, personal meaning and charismatic leadership, this article descrihow a leaders thoughts about his or her potential and future may influencepersonal meaning of charismatic and non-charismatic leaders.

  • 7/29/2019 Meaning Form Within Charismatic and Non Charismatic Leaders



    The charismatic leader is often described as an extraordinary individual whoexercises diffuse and intense influence over others through his or her values, beliefs,and behaviors. Charismatic influence stems from visionary and inspirationalmessages, change agency, follower development, symbolism, and appeal to thevalues of followers. Constructive forms of charismatic leadership may result in new

    heights of individual and collective achievements, whereas destructive forms mayresult in individual and/or collective ruin

    (Conger& Kanungo,


    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 ofperformance (Bass, 1990).

    One important aspect of charismatic leadership is the leaders self-image (Gardner &Avolio, 1998). Self-image encompasses how the leader describes himself or herself interms of needs, beliefs, values and personal meaning. Provision of meaning is centralto self-concept-based (e.g., Shamir, House & Arthur, 1993), psychoanalytic (e.g.,Eisenstadt, 1968; Kets de Vries, 1988; Zaleznik, 1974) and organizational (e.g.,House, 1977; Smircich & Morgan, 1982) explanations of charismatic leadership.Acommon theme in these theories is that followers who experience high levels of

    personal or collective stress search for leaders who give meaning to theirexperiences. However, there is no self-concept based explanation to account for thesources and content of personal meaning used by leaders to provide meaning tofollowers. The purpose of this article is to offer a theoretical basis for explaininghow self-conceptions relate to the personal meaning of charismatic leaders and non-charismatic leaders.

    The Self-Concept as a Source of Personal Meaning

    Personal meaning can be defined as that which makes ones 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 Frankl (1992). PIL represents a positive attitude toward possessing afuture-oriented self-transcendent goal in life. PIL can be described in terms of itsdepth (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 thatpersonal meaning (e.g., PIL) may stem from the self-concept. The self-conceptrepresents the &dquo;compository of life span experiences, motivational states, and actionorientations&dquo; (Cross & Markus, 1991, p. ~30). The self-concept is a complex dynamicphenomenon containing multiple aspects (i.e., past, present and future self-

    conceptions), whichare

    ordered ina

    hierarchy basedon salience



    intensity over the individual) and/or situtational importance. Because the entire selfsystem is too enormous to be held in memory at once, the most salient andaccessible self-conceptions are contained in the working self-concept, which Markusand Nurius (1986) defined as &dquo;the set of self-conceptions that are presently active inthought and memory&dquo; (p. 957). Variations in an individuals psychological states andsocial contexts promote changes in the working self-concept, which in turn providesmotivation for future behavior. Thus, the search for meaning involves findingopportunities to express the aspects of ones working self-concept.

  • 7/29/2019 Meaning Form Within Charismatic and Non Charismatic Leaders


    One type of self-conception that has been linked to provision of meaning isdomain of possible selves. Markus and Nurius (1986) identified possible selvereflections of &dquo;how individuals think about their potential and about their future&dqu954). They enable an individual to recognize the gap between what he or she isself) and what he or she would like to become (ideal self). They provide an esselink between the self-concept and affective and motivational states by provimeaning to behavior. Possible selves include what one would like to become (hofor self) and what one is afraid of becoming (feared self. Hoped-for selvespositive self-images (e.g., trustworthy, articulate, visionary) that servemotivators, goals or incentives for future behavior. Feared selves are negativeimages (e.g., duplicitous, incoherent, mundane) that serve as threats to be avoide

    Cross and Markus (1991) developed a typology of possible selves that includedomains: personal, physical, abilities/education, life-style, family, relationsoccupation, material, success, social responsibility, and leisure. For examplhoped-for possible self in the material domain might be the rich self; a fpossible self in this domain could be the bag lady self The various possible spossessed by an individual may influence personal meaning by acting as bu



    whether they represent selves that have smallor

    degrees of overlap within and between domains.According to Linville ( 1985), &dself-aspects are few and undifferentiated, a stressful event in one aspect tends toover and color thoughts and feelings about other aspects. For people who mainmore aspects and perceive greater distinctions among self-aspects, the impactnegative event is likely to be confined to a smaller portion of theirrepresentation&dquo; (p. 664). Self-complexity increases as &dquo;the number of differentaspects in the individuals self concept and the semantic difference amongincreases&dquo; (Niedenthal, Setterlund, & Wherry, 1992, p. 5). Self-complexityinfluence personal meaning by promoting positive thoughts and self-feelingsbuffer against other negative thoughts and self-feelings that result from streevents (Beike & Niedenthal, 1998; Maddi, 1998).

    Theoretical Framework and Proposed Relationships

    Valuation theory (e.g., Hermans, 1998) represents a useful framework for lipossible selves to the personal meaning of charismatic leaders and non-charismleaders. This theory of the self proposes that individuals possess an ordered svaluations which provide two basic forms of life meaning: self-glorification andtranscendence.Avaluation is a unit of meaning associated with positive/ple(e.g., hoped-for self) or negative/unpleasant (e.g., feared selo affect or feelingthe individual. Markus and Nurius (1986) argued that possible selves relatecognitions to self-feelings or affect. For example, the affective connotation or

    feeling implicitin a

    hoped-for possibleself from the social

    responsibility do(e.g., the philanthropist selo may influence the affective component of an att(Breckler, 1984) such as purpose-in-life and therefore enrich personal meaning.

    According to Hermans (1998), two oppositional, but complementary, basic motare latent in the affective connotation of each valuation: self-glorification (tmotive) and self-transcendence (the O-motive). The S-motive, based onmaintenance and self-enhancement, influences ones meaning of life experiencprotecting, maintaining and aggrandizing ones self-esteem, and is consistentself-aggrandizing/narcissistic orientations of destructive charismatic leaders.O-motiv e, based on other-directedness, provides meaning through the longin

  • 7/29/2019 Meaning Form Within Charismatic and Non Charismatic Leaders



    contact and union with others, and is consistent with Frankls (1992) notion of PILand altruistic and empowering orientations of constructive charismatic leaders.These motives parallel lower and higher stages of perspective-taking discussed inconstructive-developmental theories of charismatic/transformational leadership(e.g., Kuhnert & Lewis, 1987). These theories discuss the development of meaning-making systems (e.g., self-conceptions) in which leaders progress from simple (self-


    complex (self-transcendent)modes of


    perspective-taking which in turn motivate behavior.

    Differences in personal meaning of non-charismatic and charismatic leaders may bea function of dissimilar contents (types) and intensities (salience)