Date of Award

2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Management

School

School of Business

Faculty

Faculty of Business and Law

First Advisor

Associate Professor Peter Standen

Second Advisor

Dr Alan Coetzer

Abstract

The concept of entrepreneurial leadership has attracted growing interest from leadership scholars but research is still in an early stage and empirical studies are rare. This thesis explores this new concept in an empirical study of the personal characteristics of entrepreneurial leaders (ELs). The study is underpinned by the “common characteristics” model in which ELs have characteristics of both entrepreneurs and leaders. Semi-structured interviews and a short questionnaire were used to explore business owners’ and corporate managers’ perceptions of the personal characteristics of ELs. Responses were summarised with thematic analysis and descriptive statistics.

The findings show participants perceived EL as a distinctive leadership style applicable to both small ventures and large organisations. ELs were differentiated from non-leader entrepreneurs in motivation and leadership capabilities, and integrity was considered particularly important in ELs as entrepreneurs were seen to have questionable ethics. ELs were differentiated from non-entrepreneurial leaders in managerial style, for example being less risk-adverse and more achievement-driven. These findings partially support the common characteristics model, but also suggest ELs have some unique attributes not shared with entrepreneurs and/or leaders.

EL’s characteristics are categorised into more fixed distal attributes (e.g., cognitive abilities, motives, values and personality) and more changeable proximal attributes (e.g., problem solving skills and attitudes). A model linking distal to proximal attributes was created to enable future researchers to predict the effects of individual difference variables on leader effectiveness. The most important proximal attribute is having a growth-oriented, values-based vision. Several distal characteristics of entrepreneurs appear particularly important to leading in turbulent times. ELs are perceived to be more pragmatic and more resilient in the face of failure than non-entrepreneurial peers. The attributes of pragmatism, resilience and ethical leadership appear to give EL’s a unique leadership ‘style’. These attributes are related to recent studies of emotional intelligence and authenticity in leadership.

ELs can be either business owners or corporate managers. Respondents perceived that business-owner ELs were more likely to succeed in venture growth and also more ethical than pure entrepreneurs. Corporate ELs were perceived to be more effective in achieving results and acting as a driving force for corporate entrepreneurship. Overall the findings suggest that entrepreneurship scholars should see EL as a distinct form of leadership of great relevance to research and training programs in today’s entrepreneurial economy. Implications for both leader and entrepreneur development are presented.

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