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  • 2024Saundersphd

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Exploring the everyday processes of becoming a leader: micro-disjunctures, woodshedding and informed responsive practical coping

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date4/06/2024
Number of pages162
Awarding Institution
Award date15/05/2024
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis seeks a deeper understanding of the processes of becoming a leader which allow the emergence of practices or principles used by organisational leaders in their everyday acts of leading. A narrative literature review of theoretical and empirical literature relating to becoming a leader, manager and professional revealed a duality of approach by leadership scholars. Studies conceived of becoming a leader as something that mostly happens in the workplace, either across a lifetime or beginning when transitioning into a role of organisational leadership. I posit that becoming a leader is a whole-life process, not just influenced by the workplace. It happens across a lifetime and in an accelerated manner once in a position of organisational hierarchy. I contribute to the literature by providing a conceptual frame depicting the process of becoming a leader as a whole-life and through-life process interspersed with moments of accelerated becoming and intentional choice.
The empirical research of this thesis draws on 27 reflexive MBA dissertations focused on how practices and principles for leading develop over time, and 12 diary studies followed by nine interviews with senior organisational leaders exploring practices and processes of becoming emerging in their everyday practices of leading. Using evidence from the dissertations, I argue that becoming a leader over time involves surfacing and resolving micro-disjunctures through the articulation of principles for leading and managing. This surfacing can be triggered using reflexive narrative writing.
The diary studies reveal that when transitioning into a role of organisational leadership leaders operate in a mode of non-deliberative practical coping using practices honed for previous roles. Through experimenting and mistake-making, followed by a process of withdrawal I have called woodshedding, these leaders develop practices and processes that are intentional, a mode of informed, responsive practical coping. These finding have implications for researching and theorising about leadership learning, and for executive programmes that help leaders to develop.