Leadership development through experimentation: a theoretical framework and empirical test

Birkinshaw, J and Gudka, M (2022) Leadership development through experimentation: a theoretical framework and empirical test. Journal of Management Development, 41 (2). pp. 70-93. ISSN 0262-1711 OPEN ACCESS


Many theories have been proposed to understand and improve the process of leadership development. One useful way to structure the literature is around three complementary perspectives, briefly summarized as the “knowing, doing and being” dimensions of leadership. While the complementarities between these perspectives have been discussed, the mechanisms by which they are linked are less clear. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of experimentation as one such mechanism.

Building on interviews and prior literature, the authors argue that experimentation consists of two processes: task-prototyping focused on the work overseen by the leader and self-prototyping focused on how the leader relates to others. This study proposes a theoretical framework linking experimentation to action-taking (e.g. being entrepreneurial and taking on challenging assignments), which in turn links to leader effectiveness. The authors test the hypotheses on two groups of leaders (481 business school alumni and 310 financial services leaders).

The authors find evidence that both forms of experimentation provide significant explanatory power in understanding why some individuals engage in higher levels of action-taking than others. Additionally, their study confirms the central role of action-taking in leadership development.

Conceptually, this study distinguishes two dimensions of experimentation and their connection to action-taking, knowledge development and identity development. Empirically, the authors show that these two experimentation activities were significant predictors of action-taking, even after controlling for all other factors, and that action-taking (along with self-prototyping) was an important predictor of leader effectiveness. The results offer a practical framework for leadership and development professionals to use in designing and evaluating leadership development activities.

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Item Type: Article
Subject Areas: Strategy and Entrepreneurship
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2022 13:04
Date of first compliant deposit: 06 May 2022
Last Modified: 17 Mar 2024 01:43
URI: https://lbsresearch.london.edu/id/eprint/2511

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