Leadership and leadership development in context: Expressing and addressing executive uncertainties

David Preece, Paul Iles

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    The paper is based on data collected from a research project which centred around examining a leadership development programme run by the North-East England branch of the UK Academy for Chief Executives (ACE). It draws upon the leadership development literature, especially the more contextualised and nuanced work which has appeared in recent years. It focuses on an aspect of the experience and concern of chief executives which has not been recognized, let alone addressed, in the ‘heroic leader’ literature and polemics, nor, to the best of our knowledge, in academic work in the area: the uncertainties which these executives experience in relation to their work.
    The matter of uncertainty was not one which we explicitly raised in our interviews; nor were we looking for it through participant observation. Yet it emerged from our fieldwork as a key dimension of these people’s roles, and was an important influencing factor in their deciding to join the Academy and participate in the local Branch. Given that the ‘uncertainty issue’ has not surfaced explicitly in the leadership/leadership development literature (for that would be to admit that leaders are not necessarily or always the omniscient, confident, thrustingcharacters as they are often portrayed there), we hope that the paper will offer a corrective, and thereby contribute to the design and offering of leadership development programmes which do recognize and build in means of addressing these uncertainties. Given organizational complexities and continual external and internal change, perhaps such people will always experience uncertainties, but perhaps also some of them, at least, can be assuaged, if not eradicated, through appropriate leadership development programmes. A key condition of such a programme, if it is going to have a chance of success, is that a high degree of trust is established both between the members and between the members and the programme leaders.
    In the literature review we discuss previous cognate work in the areas of knowledge and skills, career development and actions, behavioural uncertainties, the role of trust in leadership development, and network access. We develop a typology of different modes of leadership development in context, and suggest that uncertainties are more likely to be surfaced and assuaged in ‘open’ rather than ‘directed’ modes of development, whether such modes address individual (‘leader development’) or collective social capital (‘leadership development’).
    Following the literature review, we outline the research project and the Academy for Chief Executives, present and analyse our findings, and offer a concluding discussion. The key uncertainties which we found these CEs experienced to a greater or lesser degree related to knowledge, personal matters, job/career, behavioural issues, and organizational contexts.
    Original languageEnglish
    Number of pages41
    Publication statusPublished - 9 Dec 2008
    Event7th International Conference on Studying Leadership - University of Auckland, New Zealand
    Duration: 8 Dec 20089 Dec 2008


    Conference7th International Conference on Studying Leadership
    Country/TerritoryNew Zealand

    Bibliographical note

    Author can archive post-print (ie final draft post-refereeing). [Email from University of Auckland]


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