Inventing a future for strategic leadership: phenomenal variety and epistemic opportunities

V. K. Narayanan, Lee J. Zane

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to offer an epistemological vantage point for theory development in the case of strategic leadership, an emerging focus of scholarly attention in strategic management. Design/methodology/approach – The authors invoke Rescher's epistemological platform for making the case, Rescher being one of the most influential philosophers in the USA. Findings – The analysis suggests that since strategic leadership differs from supervisory leadership, both on organizational reach and incorporation of external elements, defining the strategic leadership problem exclusively as a difference in context – what Weick referred to as a strategy of knowledge growth by extension – is likely to prove unproductive. Rescher's platform can be put to use for specifying the two critical though inter-related epistemological challenges in the beginning of the theory development project: the choice of concepts, and the type of relations among the concepts. These epistemological challenges may be reframed as opportunities to capture the phenomenal variety embedded in these concepts, and to deploy a diversity of approaches to examine their correspondence. Research limitations/implications – Contending and complementary views on strategic leadership, and hence concepts representing alternate views should be allowed. Bridges should be built between islands of scholarship, but these bridges are likely to be found in special issues of journals (devoted deliberately to nurture multiple perspectives), edited books and invited conferences. Practical implications – Engagement with “strategic” leaders is an epistemological necessity for both theoretical and pragmatic reasons. Originality/value – This paper demonstrates how epistemology can strengthen theory building in the case of strategic leadership. Given the signal importance of this phenomenon, good theories and, therefore, epistemological challenges should occupy a central stage of discussions in this early stage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)380-404
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Strategy and Management
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 23 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Business and International Management
  • Strategy and Management


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