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Learning leadership through practice – healthcare managers' experience

Kerstin Nilsson (Institute of Health and Care Sciences, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Göteborg, Sweden)
Carina Furåker (Institute of Health and Care Sciences, The Sahlgrenska Academy, University of Gothenburg, Göteborg, Sweden)

Leadership in Health Services

ISSN: 1751-1879

Article publication date: 27 April 2012




The aim of this study is to describe the experience of Swedish healthcare managers (HCMs) of learning leadership through practice.


The study is based on a qualitative approach, and critical incident technique guided the data collection. Interviews with 22 hospital HCMs provided a total of 50 narratives. These narratives were categorised by classifying them according to their manifest content, and a latent content analysis resulted in categories with additional sub‐categories.


Leadership learning occurred in relation to reorganisation, developmental work and conflicts. About 50 per cent of the narratives were classified as “managing conflicts”. The learning outcome in the classes was related to the categories “personal development”, “interpersonal leadership qualities” and “developing leadership strategies”. About 50 per cent of all learning outcome was a result of managing conflicts.

Research limitations/implications

To be able to transfer the findings to a wider context in healthcare, further research into experience‐based leadership learning in healthcare is needed.

Practical implications

A majority of the narratives as well as the learning outcomes are related to managing conflicts. This indicates that in management development programmes, as well as leadership courses, the focus on conflict management should be extended, and also that HCMs need support from their employer in their conflict management duties.


With its use of critical incident technique, this study contributes to an understanding of HCMs' experience‐based leadership learning – a field in which limited research has been conducted.



Nilsson, K. and Furåker, C. (2012), "Learning leadership through practice – healthcare managers' experience", Leadership in Health Services, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 106-122.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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