Joel M. Podolny, Rakesh Khurana, and Marya Hill-Popper

Among the many functions of organizational leadership, one of the most important is the development of a worldview for participants. Organizations, like individuals, search for stability and meaning. This search often ends when organizations identify a set of morally sustaining ideals. Ideals animate and help direct decision making in an organization or a society. These ideals are never fully realized. We all recognize that compromise is an essential part of organizational life, but ideals create aspirations for an organization’s members. This is also true at the societal level. For example, while we are far from the ideals of equality or a world without racism, these ideas remain essential to animating public discourse and to our evaluation of important governmental actions. One part of what makes our action meaningful is the fact that it is directed toward ideals that we value. To the extent that we understand our work within an organization as contributing to a goal or ideal that we value, our work will have meaning.

Meaning is created not only when people express aspects of their own ideas (their beliefs or values), but also when this occurs through relationships with other people. This relational aspect of our actions is what we consider to be the second component of meaning, community. Work can play an important role in designating and maintaining social relationships. When our activity at work produces an acute sense of awareness with those with whom we share the same circumstances and often the same fate, we experience work as meaningful. Such an organizational setting is what organizational scholars call a natural community, a state in which self and surrounding are inseparable.

So, meaning has these two components-a component emphasizing the ability of individuals to engage in action that is directly connected to their own ideals, and a social component, where the pursuit of those ideals occurs in the context of enduring communal relationships.

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