Paradoxes and pathways to learning family business leadership
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The paper reports on a qualitative analysis of case studies and learning narratives of CEOs of successful family firms (FCBs) to understand how they undertake the learning necessary for their leadership roles. A review of the literature on leadership theory and learning shows specific theoretical gaps and tensions in leadership theory that are important for understanding theoretical and practical issues in how leadership is learned in the FCB context. Specifically, the intangible resources of FCBs, especially high levels of trust, reliance on networks, and specific knowledge management practices, which are the basis of their competitive advantage, also affect how they need to be led, and how leaders acquire the skills to lead them. Results showed family firm CEOs followed four discrete, sequential learning phases, each characterized by a specific learning priority. The family nature of the firm meant each learning priority had a specific paradox: truths or realities held in tension or contradiction. Successful family firms had devised particular pathways through each learning paradox to achieve the learning priority for each phase. Results are summarized in a framework which we use to discuss other patterns in the learning process and to link our work with other research. We conclude with propositions for further research.
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