Learning to lead in the entrepreneurial context

Stephen Kempster (School of Business and Enterprise, University of Cumbria, Carlisle, UK)
Jason Cope (Hunter Centre for Entrepreneurship, University of Strathclyde, Glasgow, UK)

International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research

ISSN: 1355-2554

Publication date: 2 February 2010



The purpose of this paper is to explore the nature of leadership learning in the entrepreneurial context, by building a dynamic learning perspective of entrepreneurship. It draws on contemporary leadership literature to appreciate entrepreneurial leadership as a social process of becoming located in particular contexts and communities.


Through qualitative phenomenological interviews with nine entrepreneurs the lived experience of learning to lead is explored. The principles of interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) are utilised to analyse the data and enable inductive theory‐building.


The findings illustrate situated leadership patterns and relationships unique to the entrepreneurial context. A number of significant structural and experiential factors are identified that both shape and restrict the development of leadership practice in small ventures. Specifically, the limited opportunities for leadership enactment and observation, the dominance of the business as the crucible for leadership learning, the influence of the family and the low salience of leadership are highlighted.

Research limitations/implications

In appreciating the leadership learning task that nascent entrepreneurs are faced with it is vital that further research delves deeper into the varying levels of “leadership preparedness” brought to new venture creation. From a policy perspective, there is significant value in enabling entrepreneurs to engage in meaningful dialogue, critical reflection and purposive action with their peers through the creation of leadership “learning networks”.


The research demonstrates leadership learning processes and pathways that are significantly different to those experienced by managers in the employed context. In so doing, this article represents the first systematic attempt to apply a learning perspective to the subject of entrepreneurial leadership.



Kempster, S. and Cope, J. (2010), "Learning to lead in the entrepreneurial context", International Journal of Entrepreneurial Behavior & Research, Vol. 16 No. 1, pp. 5-34. https://doi.org/10.1108/13552551011020054

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