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A biographical approach to researching leadership and entrepreneurship development processes in a small business context

Jones, K. ORCID:, Sambrook, S., Henley, A. and Norbury, H. (2011) A biographical approach to researching leadership and entrepreneurship development processes in a small business context. Bangor Business School Working Paper Series, 2011. pp. 1-17.

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To link to this item DOI: 10.2139/ssrn.1952667


This paper proposes a strategy for the research of leadership and entrepreneurial learning and development processes in a small business context. It is relevant to wide ranging local, national and European policies to develop SME entrepreneurial leadership practice and SME growth. Leadership is probably the most important factor to business success (Analoui and Karami 2003). Yet, as Rae and Carswell (2000) point out, a greater understanding is needed of the nature and the process of entrepreneurship in terms of how people learn to start and grow businesses, especially those that become high performing businesses. The authors argue that the life story approach is an industrious and valid method of researching entrepreneurial learning. It is noted elsewhere that empirical understanding of the informal processes of leadership learning of entrepreneurs is limited (Kempster and Cope 2010). Offering a solution in the field of leadership studies, Kuhnert and Russel (1990) propose biographical data can illuminate the development processes involved in life events. Biography as a methodology teaches us about life and human behaviour; it can help us to understand individual motives, personality, the people and conditions that influenced an individual in a way that brings their life and work to life. “Biography adds flesh to the bones of achievement; it adds human form to the spirit of ideas and emotions” (Jones 1998 p. 161). Howe (1982) suggests biographical data can draw out a person’s uniqueness and provide insights into individual human development that reveal the relationship between earlier experience and later achievements. It has been argued that biographical research is equal to more traditional approaches adopted in the field of small medium enterprise, and can tap into the intangible nature of creativity, whilst also introducing creativity and imagination into the research process (Fillis 2006). Methodologically, biographical research can involve a range of data-collection methods and analytical approaches. This research involves biographic narrative interpretive method interviews. These begin with a single initial narrative-inducing question. ‘Minimalist-passive’ (Wengraf 2000) interview techniques facilitate uninterrupted narration. Thematic questioning follows and finally non-narrative questions can be posed (Wengraf 2004). The sample is drawn from owners of small medium enterprises (SMEs) registered on a leadership and development programme known as ‘LEAD Wales’. The programme is backed by funding from the European Social Fund (ESF) and Welsh Assembly Government. The study forms part of a larger research agenda that will track the longer term effects of the intervention. A sample of 17 biographical interviews will form part of the initial study but this target will remain fluid. Despite its scope, limited contributions to the literature on biography emerge from this field. This paper will explore the feasibility of biographical research in the context of LEAD Wales by critically reflecting on this work in progress and the potential contribution of biography as a means of exploring the temporal nature of the lived experience, and an appreciation in the self and representations of the self as an entrepreneur and leader.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education > Improving Equity and Inclusion through Education
ID Code:72159
Uncontrolled Keywords:Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Learning, SME, Biographical Research
Publisher:Bangor University

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