Leading by Biography: Towards a Life-story Approach to the Study of Leadership
By Boas Shamir, Hava Dayan-Horesh and Dalya Adler
The second supplementary article was called “Leading by Biography: Towards a
Life-story Approach to the Study of Leadership,” written by Boas Shamir, Hava Dayan-
Horesh and Dalya Adler. This article suggests that in the field of leadership studies a
source that has the potential to be a significantly powerful source for a leader was
completely overlook. According to Boas Shamir, Hava Dayan-Horesh, and Dalya Adler,
a leader‟s biography or “life-story” was the important source missing or overlooked
from the literature on leadership, and the field of leadership studies. The authors‟ use the
term biography to refer to all and any forms of life-stories. A leader‟s biography or „life-
story‟ would contain information about a leader‟s life from where current followers and/
or any potentially new followers could learn about a leader‟s behaviours and traits.
Moreover, a leader‟s „life-story‟ would actually provide him or her with a „self-concept‟
from which he or she can effectively lead. Throughout the article, the authors attempt to
demonstrate the usefulness of a biographical approach to the study of leadership.
The article is structured into different sections; it is divided into three sections.
The first section discusses the author‟s four main assumptions or arguments, the second
section examines a narrative approach to the study of leaders‟ life-stories through the
demonstration of four different leadership development themes, and the fourth section
discusses the conclusions and any implications of their study, including suggestions for
1 Boas Shamir, Hava Dayan-Horesh and Dalya Adler, “Leading by Biography: Towards a
Life-story Approach to the Study of Leadership,” Department of Sociology and
Social Anthropology, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel vol, 1, no. 1 (2005),
p. 13. Shamir, Dayan-Horesh, and Adler begin their article with exemplifying their four
arguments from where their theory of the importance of leaders‟ life-stories is based on.
The first argument is that the leader‟s influence is mediated through followers‟
perceptions and beliefs. The assumption here is that followers must somehow perceive
or observe a leader‟s traits and behaviours in order to be influenced by this individual
they consider their leader. However, the authors claim that traits cannot be observed
directly, and at times neither is behaviours. Thus, any perceptions of a leader‟s traits or
behaviours are based on information from other sources or as the authors‟ suggests,
followers have to rely on using sources of information that aren‟t direct, e.g. the leader‟s
life story. The example presented in the article suggests that stories of a leader‟s self-
sacrifice, or stories that convey competence and past achievements that followers can
learn about a leader‟s courage or commitment to collective values. Consequently,
followers willing place their trust in the leader, have a sense of admiration for the leader,
and are able to identify with the leader due to what they know about the leader‟s life-
story. Thus, the first argument maintains that a leader‟s power and influence are based on
such indirect knowledge or sources of information.
The second argument proposed claimed that a follower‟s impression of a leader is
likely to be influenced by the follower‟s initial expectations and attitudes towards the
leader, which are also likely to be, partially, based on non-observed traits and
behaviours. In other words, like any first encounter or interaction with someone, first
impressions (be it good or bad) tend to leave a lasting impression. The authors argue that
followers‟ initial expectations and attitudes of leaders are influenced by first impressions
2 Boas Shamir, Hava Dayan-Horesh, and Dalya Adler, “Leading by Biography…,” p. 14.
3 Shamir, Dayan-Horesh, and Adler, “Leading by Biography…,” p. 14. and initial interactions. Similarly, they also state that followers can and are influenced by
information obtained about the leader, and essentially, a leader‟s life-story is one of those
sources of information.
The third argument considers the actual act of telling the life-story should itself be
considered leadership behaviour. The authors, along with several other authors,
suggest that the study of leadership should concern the management of meanings.
Because leaders are engaged in various verbal and symbolic behaviours, aimed at
‘frame-alignment’ of the meanings held by followers, it’s argued that a way in which
a leader manages these meanings or exerts their influence on their followers is by
simply telling the stories. The stories many leaders tell can be about a group or
organization they lead or it can be a pe