Top leaders’ experiences of learning

Barden, Stephen (2015) Top leaders’ experiences of learning. DProf thesis, Middlesex University / The Professional Development Foundation. [Thesis]

PDF - Final accepted version (with author's formatting)
Download (2MB) | Preview


This qualitative grounded theory study explores how ten top leaders experienced their learning, whether there were any commonalities in their learning and how that learning could be applied to leadership development and coaching.
Four military generals, three corporate chief executives and three academic leaders were interviewed on learning experiences that they judged as being influential. These interviews were transcribed and analysed according to social constructivist grounded theory through a process of initial, focused and clustered coding followed by individual theme development and common theme construction. A tentative theory emerged from the data.
At each stage findings were referred back to the ten research participants for their validation. Finally a ‘reflective conversation’ was held with each leader, during which they were asked to rate the level of their identification with 11 characteristics and tools that were identified from the common themes. The results showed considerable common identification and use across the entire sample.
Findings indicate that, very early in their lives, these top leaders developed a navigational stance based on their exploration of early relationships (Bowlby, 1988), which assumes a ‘partnering’ relationship with their world.
This navigational stance is strengthened by the consistent and compound application of a navigation template consisting of 11 identified tools and characteristics. These are: navigation (finding a way through), pragmatism (doing the best possible), three-way challenges, socialised decision-making, no attachment to failure (but to holding accountable), an acute sense of reality (no wishful thinking), holism (seeing linkages within and between contexts), alertness to constituents, a sense of direction (with no dogma), use of mentors and the use of the tools as a composite template.
Three innovative insights emerge: a) that the individuals in this research who go on to be successful organisational heads, experience their relationship with their world as a manageable partnership at an early age, b) that because this partnership relationship is perceived to be effective, they reinforce and refine it by the consistent application of a navigation template, and c) that the consistent application of the navigation template may cause these leaders to be in default transformative learning mode.
The developing theory and model is articulated and applied to leadership coaching.

Item Type: Thesis (DProf)
Research Areas: A. > Work and Learning Research Centre
B. > Theses
Item ID: 14682
Useful Links:
Depositing User: Users 3197 not found.
Date Deposited: 07 Apr 2015 12:20
Last Modified: 29 Nov 2022 23:06

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Activity Overview
6 month trend
6 month trend

Additional statistics are available via IRStats2.