Past theorizing and empirical work suggest that long-standing strategic leaders generate harmful attention and information-processing effects in their organizations, which in turn impair organizational learning and performance. In contrast, our argument is that longevity and its attendant inertia foster useful transformational and strategic persistence for organizations pursuing stretch goals. Through attentional vigilance and restricted focus, inertia may create the cognitive profile necessary for effective learning when organizations pursue the seemingly impossible. We empirically examine our ideas in the context of the French royal navy and the naval battles it had with the British in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. More specifically, we focus on two distinct but related stretch periods during which the French royal navy was tasked with building a powerful naval force and using it to gain naval supremacy over Great Britain. Given its exceptionally weak starting position at the beginning of the two studied periods and its desire to displace the established and advantaged navy of the era, the French had a lofty task. Our results are supportive of the stability argument, with leader longevity and inertia being positive for outcomes.
For valuable help in accessing historical data on French and British navies, we are indebted to Patrick Karl O’Brien and Xavier Duran. Support from the EDHEC Strategy & Management Research Center is gratefully acknowledged. Important conceptual and empirical insights from Sim Sitkin and Alex Tawse are also gratefully acknowledged, as is excellent editing assistance provided by Susan Leclercq.
Meschi, P.-X., Métais, E. and Miller☆, C.C. (2015), "Leader Longevity, Cognitive Inertia, and Performance in Organizations with Stretch Goals: Evidence from “ All three authors contributed equally and are listed in alphabetical order.
All three authors contributed equally and are listed in alphabetical order.
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