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date: 29 May 2020

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter adopts a critical stance towards meaningful work and leadership theory and asks whether it is feasible or desirable for leaders to be positioned as architects of purpose and meaning. Work is, for many, a dissatisfying experience with little opportunity for voice and agency, rather than constituting a source of fulfillment and meaning. Leadership theories fail to account for leaders’ lack of authority over meaning-making for their followers. Leaders may end up threatening rather than strengthening employees’ existing sense of meaningfulness, since employees may not “buy in” to the dominant discourse and goals of the organization or the leader. Spiritual leadership approaches adopt a unitarist notion that leaders are uniquely placed to provide employees with a sense of meaningfulness, which fails to take account of the potential “dark side” of managing meaning. For many, meaningfulness may arise from resistance to prevailing ideologies.

Keywords: meaningful work, leadership, dark side, meaning-making, purpose, voice, authority

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