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Leader, “know yourself”: bringing back self-awareness, trust and feedback with a theory O perspective

Ngaio Crook (Massey Business School, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand)
Ozan Nadir Alakavuklar (Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance, School of Governance, Utrecht University, Utrecht, The Netherlands)
Ralph Bathurst (Massey Business School, Massey University, Albany, New Zealand)

Journal of Organizational Change Management

ISSN: 0953-4814

Article publication date: 25 December 2020

Issue publication date: 30 March 2021




This paper explores how leaders identify their roles and selves when they lead change in a dynamic organizational context.


Using a qualitative approach, ten ICT leaders participated in semi-structured interviews depicting their experiences of change. A thematic method of interpretative analysis was used to develop findings, supported by Theory U as a conceptual tool for leadership self-awareness.


Leaders struggle with organizational constraints and boundaries, specifically the complexities that form and limit their leadership underpinned by unrealistic expectations due to the construction of romanticized heroic leadership. While these restrictions lead to feelings of detachment of leaders from their organizations, leadership development exists in the acts of letting go of old behaviors, and welcoming emergence and experimentation by trusting more.

Research limitations/implications

This study may be limited by its small sample and the use of one framework to make sense of the leaders' experience of change. It confirms that change can challenge organizing norms and how leadership is identified.

Practical implications

Despite the feeling of detachment from their organizations, developing greater self-awareness, being open to new ideas and trusting more can bring about better organizational outcomes, which is represented with Theory O as a contribution both for theory and practice.


This study illustrates (1) leaders' inner work or personal experience of change, and (2) how improvement of self-awareness can contribute to the involvement of leaders to the change process. Based on self-awareness, trust and feedback relationship, this study suggests a new practical and conceptual tool called Theory O by advancing Theory U.



The authors would like to thank Professor Magala and the reviewers for their constructive comments.


Crook, N., Alakavuklar, O.N. and Bathurst, R. (2021), "Leader, “know yourself”: bringing back self-awareness, trust and feedback with a theory O perspective", Journal of Organizational Change Management, Vol. 34 No. 2, pp. 350-365.



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