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Sensemaking, storytelling and the legitimization of elite business careers

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Mairi Maclean, Professor Charles Harvey


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This article examines elite business careers through the dual lens of sensemaking and storytelling as recounted in life-history interviews with business leaders. It explores how they make sense of, narrativize and legitimate their experiences of building their careers within and beyond large organizations. The research contribution is twofold. First, we explicate the sensemaking processes embedded within the multifarious stories recorded in life-history interviews, identified as locating, meaning-making and becoming. Second, we contribute to the literature on legitimacy by examining how business leaders use their storytelling as a vehicle for self-legitimization, (re)framing their accounts of their own success and justifying their position to themselves and others. In a world where reputations are hard won but easily lost, business leaders must nurture a life-history narrative which is socially desirable if their careers are to remain on track. This may serve them well through the creative evolution of their organizational journeys.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Maclean M, Harvey C, Chia R

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Human Relations

Year: 2012

Volume: 65

Issue: 1

Pages: 17-40

Print publication date: 01/01/2012

ISSN (print): 0018-7267

ISSN (electronic):

Publisher: Sage Publications Ltd.


DOI: 10.1177/0018726711425616


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