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Finding Meaning in the Organization

Traditionally, executives are expected to create the vision for the organization they lead; the leaders' vision is then disseminated throughout the ranks. However, such top-down vision creation may mean that not all employees wholeheartedly embrace the vision they are given. An alternative approach to vision creation is found in the concept of "meaning-making." A meaning-maker is a member of a group who -- regardless of whether he or she is a formal authority figure -- articulates what the group is trying to accomplish in its work. Meaning-makers are typically deeply engaged in their work settings and are usually observant people who listen well and are in tune with a group's or an organization's rhythm. Using techniques such as images, humor or a new perspective on a situation, they are able to express a group's collective insight. For example, a pizza restaurant company was floundering until one of the senior managers articulated the idea that the company was not in a restaurant business so much as in a distribution business. This new model galvanized the organization, and local managers sought new outlets to distribute the company's pizza. Managers who are meaning-makers also may help others to articulate the meaning of the group's work, and such managers tend to embody a flexible style of leadership that recognizes that leadership is expressed in how people interact. While some have wondered whether meaning-making has to do with spirituality, the role of the meaning-maker in most organizations has less to do with transcendental, universal meaning than with identifying a here-and-now meaning related to the work people do together.
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