Life Events of Strategic Leaders: spillovers in the professional domain
Sebastiaan van Doorn (executive guest editor) University of Western Australia | Australia | email@example.com
Melanie FeldhuesCopenhagen Business School | Denmark | firstname.lastname@example.org
Haijian LiuNanjing University | China | email@example.com
Arnold Japutra University of Western Australia | Australia | firstname.lastname@example.org
Mariano (Pitosh) Heyden | Monash University | Australia | email@example.com
Special issue information:
Motivation for the Special Issue
The topic of life events impacting the strategic leadership function of the firm has fast gained traction over the past 5 years. We aim to collate a special issue where the state-of-the-art in the field is represented and where future guidance is provided to streamline this fast emerging literature. While the research tradition on life events has gained attention, there are a number of key questions that prevent the field from achieving overarching coherence and consistency. These issues centre around theory, methodology, and disciplinary divides that have allowed the literature to develop along scattered lines to date.
Specific Focus of the Special Issue
The private life events of strategic leaders are receiving increasing attention as indicators of professional outcomes. On the one hand, characteristics of strategic leaders have long been a source for academic inquiry, with a focus on demographics and personality (Bromiley and Rau, 2016; Carpenter et al. 2004). On the other hand, a fast emerging tradition on private life events has evidenced that important spillovers can be observed where these events in the private lives of organizational leaders shape professional behavior and associated organizational outcomes (see Van Doorn et al. 2023 for an overview). Private life events, such as marriage (Roussanov and Savor, 2014; Nicolosi, 2013), parenthood (Killewald, 2013; Feldhues and Holm, 2019), bereavement (Aktas et al. 2020), childhood adversity (Malmendier et al. 2011; Bernile et al. 2017) have both short and long term consequences in how strategic leaders steer their firms and therefore offer key complementary explanation to the suite of research informed by upper echelon theory (Hambrick and Mason, 1984; Cox and Cooper, 1989).
The two main theoretical perspectives that underline how behavior is influenced by private life events are the stress perspective and the developmental perspective. First, the stress perspective observes life events as non-trivial turning points in behavioral patterns that require substantial adjustment (Luhmann et al., 2012). Here the focus lies with coping trajectories that draw the attention of the CEO and reduce their overall cognitive and emotional availability to tend to organizational challenges (Hobson et al. 1998). While this effect tends to taper over time, it does have the potential to change long term preferences of strategic leaders, e.g., through identity reconstruction or altered belief systems (Park, 2005). Second, the developmental perspective draws from lifespan theory and views life events as opportunities for personal growth. Here the emphasis is primarily on the long term impact of life events where they become part of the individual through a process of internalization (Jayawickreme and Blackie, 2014). Together, life events are seen as both impacting the short and long term behavioral patterns of executive leaders as well as firm outcomes.
While attention for CEO life events is steadily building (Van Doorn et al. 2023), there are notable gaps in research on life events of other individuals in strategic leadership positions. Most notably the unique focus on CEOs could be extended to TMT members (Yao et al. 2020), board members (Zhou et al. 2021), and middle managers (Kobasa et al. 1982). Moreover, most of the research to date considers life events in isolation, while life span theory predicts that events compound and cross-influence on the behavioral tendencies of strategic leaders over time (Baltes et al. 2007), especially as positive and negative life events unfold along the individual biography. In addition, more emphasis could be placed on the support network of strategic leaders in aiding the coping trajectory and reducing negative consequences of life events but also seizing opportunities emerging from life events. We invite both qualitative and quantitative approaches to the study of life events of strategic leaders and organizational impact.
Suggested topics/research questions