Sensemaking, storytelling and the legitimization of elite business careers

Mairi Maclean, Charles Harvey, Robert Chia

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

111 Citations (Scopus)
478 Downloads (Pure)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)17-40
Number of pages24
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2012


  • business leaders
  • elite business careers
  • legitimacy
  • life histories
  • narrative
  • self-legitimization
  • sensemaking
  • storytelling

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