Leading by Biography: Towards a Life-story Approach to the Study of Leadership

Boas Shamir, Hava Dayan-Horesh, Dalya Adler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Most leadership theories view leaders’ influence as stemming from their traits or behaviors. We suggest that the field of leadership studies has overlooked another potentially important source of the leader’s influence, namely his or her life-story. We argue that the leader’s life-story is an important source of information from which followers and potential followers learn about the leader’s traits and behaviors, that the leader’s life story provides the leader with a self-concept from which he or she can lead, and that telling the life story or parts of it is an important leadership behavior. As an example of the life-story approach, we present a study of leadership development themes appearing in leaders’ life stories. We conclude by proposing that a biographical and narrative approach to leadership studies should complement the currently dominant emphasis on leadership styles, and by suggesting some research directions that stem from this approach.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)13-29
Number of pages17
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2005
Externally publishedYes


  • development
  • leadership
  • life-story
  • narrative
  • self-concept

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Strategy and Management


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