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Observing the invisible: Examining the role of observational learning in the development of leadership practice

Stephen Kempster (School of Business and Enterprise, University of Cumbria, Carlisle, UK)

Journal of Management Development

ISSN: 0262-1711

Article publication date: 22 May 2009

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this paper is to explore the invisible role of observational learning in the development of leadership practice. A model of observational learning and leadership practice is suggested to help guide theorizing and design intervention.

Design/methodology/approach

The approach takes the form of empirical qualitative research that utilizes a time‐line interview technique with 34 managers to enable in‐depth data to be revealed of observational leadership learning. Data analysis is through a phenomenological grounded theory approach.

Findings

The paper illustrates that observational learning from “notable people” is a prominent influence of these managers' conceptions of leadership. Such observational learning differed between men and women and between employed and self‐employed contexts.

Research limitations/implications

The variety, availability and diversity of people to observe and engage with are argued here to have significant implications for the development of leadership practice.

Practical implications

The conclusions suggest that interventions into the leadership development of men and women, and between the employed and self‐employed need to be different and such interventions need to be responsive to established structural practices.

Originality/value

The paper responds to a call for contextualized, in‐depth qualitative research into leadership development, making prominent the significance of observational learning to leadership practice and how such observational learning varies between men and women, and between the employed and the self‐employed. It also provides a model of observational learning and leadership practice to guide understanding of informal leadership development.

Keywords

Citation

Kempster, S. (2009), "Observing the invisible: Examining the role of observational learning in the development of leadership practice", Journal of Management Development, Vol. 28 No. 5, pp. 439-456. https://doi.org/10.1108/02621710910955976

Publisher

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Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2009, Emerald Group Publishing Limited