Abz Sharma and David Grant published “Narrative, drama and charismatic leadership: The case of Apple’s Steve Jobs” in the February 2011 issue of Leadership. To read the other articles in this issue, please follow this link.
This article argues that a leader’s narrative and storytelling skills play a critical role in constructing their charismatic identity. In line with Goffman’s (1959) observations, we argue that these skills are effected through ‘stage management’: a segregation between back and front ‘performing regions’ that serves to minimise potential incursions, leaks, disruptions and faux pas that may undermine the leader’s performance. Further, we suggest that Burke’s (1966) observations in relation to the importance of scene setting offer important insights into the impact of leader storytelling and narrative on followers. We revise and extend Gardner and Avolio’s (1998) dramaturgical model of the charismatic relationship in order to reflect these observations, and go on to apply this model to an analysis of three public performances by a case-study leader – Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple Inc.We examine Jobs’ performances as discursive texts, exploring the ways in which he uses them, through stage management, to practice narrative and storytelling and explore how, through these discursive activities, he is able to define himself and his world for his followers. In doing so, we empirically demonstrate and extend the utility of the dramaturgical metaphor to the study of charismatic leadership.