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31 Oct 2023
Organizational ghosts: admired former leaders who continue to have outsized influence after they’ve departed.

Originally found at

Jeff Bednar is a ghost hunter. And while the BYU business professor doesn't have night vision cameras or ultra-sensitive recording equipment, he's found a bunch of them—including several here at BYU.

The ghosts Bednar and University of Illinois colleague Jacob Brown are hunting sound similar to the ghosts you've heard of—they linger long after they've left this life and hover over their previous haunts—but they're not necessarily the kind of ghosts that show up around Halloween.

They're called organizational ghosts: admired former leaders that become embodied prototypes of the organization's values and identity who continue to have outsized influence long after they've departed. Think Walt Disney, Coco Chanel or Steve Jobs. And it turns out these organizational ghosts tend to visit their old stomping grounds pretty regularly.

...These individuals transcend their physical presence, becoming immortalized within the organization and living on through associative learning, perpetuated practices, and collective memory. The research, published recently in the Academy of Management Journal, found that organizational ghosts can serve to safeguard organizations from risky decisions, legitimize the actions of current leaders, or devalue new leaders or other organizations.

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