Sensegiving and the role of cognitive shifts in the work of leadership

Erica Gabrielle Foldy, Laurie Goldman, Sonia Ospina

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Sensegiving-shaping how people understand themselves, their work, and others engaged in that work-is critical to the work of organizational leadership. We propose the "cognitive shift," a change in how an organizational audience understands an important element of the organization's work, as a desired outcome of the sensegiving process. Organizations try to spur these shifts in two categories: about their issue and about their primary constituency, the population it is designed to serve or mobilize. This approach makes two contributions: It re-directs attention from individual leaders' behaviors and characteristics to the work of leadership, as opposed to the agents through which it is carried out. Second, it operationalizes the intangible process of meaning-making by breaking it down into discrete units that are relatively equivalent and, therefore, comparable, providing a systematic way to analyze and map cognitive leadership processes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)514-529
Number of pages16
JournalLeadership Quarterly
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2008


  • Cognition
  • Cognitive shift
  • Sensegiving
  • Sensemaking
  • Work of leadership

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Business and International Management
  • Applied Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Organizational Behavior and Human Resource Management


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