CEOs narrating leadership: Constant gardeners, team players, actionable pragmatists and business directors
Paper in proceedings, 2018
There is an increasing stream of leadership-related rhetoric, organisational discourses and training interventions stemming from policy-makers, media and management consultants concerning the ‘right’ kind of leadership needed in order for industries to meet their current and future challenges. Yet seldom is the concept itself problematised or viewed from the perspective of leadership as it unfolds in situated practice. The purpose of this explorative pilot study is to examine CEOs discursive constructions of their leadership, their ambitions and concerns in their every-day practice. Using a narrative-survey approach, life-stories of 12 CEOs in private construction-related organisations in Sweden were collected and analysed against the backdrop of recent studies of managerial leadership of site managers in construction. Four main metaphorical themes emerged of CEOs leadership practices: constant gardeners, team players, actionable pragmatists and business directors. These mindsets showed quite different orientations to those advocated in much of the normative leadership literature. Rather the practices had interesting similarities with the leadership views of site managers. The paper contributes with a more nuanced, and maybe humbler, view of leadership at the top, which aligns well with leadership practices on site. We also introduce a novel qualitative research tool and briefly reflect over its viability.