Topic: Leadership and Employee Empowerment

Author(s), Title and Publication

Hall, M. L. (2011). Sensing the Vision: Sense Making and the Social Construction of Leadership in the Branch Office of an Insurance Company. Atlantic Journal Of Communication, 19(2), 65-78.


This study focused on the sense making process of leadership behaviors among middle and lower levels organizational members. Focus groups were conducted with one manager group (4 people) and one employee group (8 people) at one large branch office of an insurance company on the East Coast. An executive-level organizational initiative to create a “culture of inclusion” was used as an example, and the participants were asked to evaluate the leader’s performance in their organization.

Results suggested that employee sense making is complex and may be linked to position in an organization. Both managers and employees understood the importance of the bottom line and profits to the organization, as well as the key role of a leader’s ability to motivate subordinates. However, they held different perceptions of how the organizational values were implemented in the work place. Specifically, employees reported that although the organization claimed it valued an inclusive environment, those who received a promotion demonstrated more competence to meet the bottom line, rather than to manage and inspire subordinates. By contrast, managers said the organization had created a culture that reflected inclusive values. This study also suggested that the role of middle management might be more complex than previously outlined in the leadership literature because middle-level managers face two tasks: resolving employees’ frustrations, and implementing organizational initiatives. This exploratory study is insightful but limited by the small number of subjects in the study.

Implications for Practice

The study confirms that effective leadership does not solely depend on the charismatic communication of the chief executive, but rather relies on collaboration among all levels of management in an organization and requires alignment between leadership and organizational values and rewards. Practitioners can help ensure that leaders are visible and model appropriate behaviors.

Location of Article

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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