A Biographical Approach to Researching Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development Processes in a Small Business Context

17 Pages Posted: 15 Nov 2011 Last revised: 16 Jan 2012

See all articles by Karen Jones

Karen Jones

University of Reading

Sally Sambrook

Bangor Business School

Andrew Henley

Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University; IZA Institute of Labor Economics

Heather Norbury

Swansea University

Date Written: October 1, 2011


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.

Keywords: Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Learning, SME, Biographical Research

Suggested Citation

Jones, Karen and Sambrook, Sally and Henley, Andrew and Norbury, Heather, A Biographical Approach to Researching Leadership and Entrepreneurship Development Processes in a Small Business Context (October 1, 2011). Bangor Business School Research Paper No. 11/004, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1952667 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1952667

Karen Jones

University of Reading ( email )

Reading, Berkshire RG6 6AH
United Kingdom

Sally Sambrook (Contact Author)

Bangor Business School ( email )

Bangor Business School
College Road
Gwynedd LL57 2DG, Wales LL57 2DG
United Kingdom

Andrew Henley

Cardiff Business School, Cardiff University ( email )

Aberconway Building
Colum Drive
Cardiff, CF10 3EU
United Kingdom

IZA Institute of Labor Economics

P.O. Box 7240
Bonn, D-53072

Heather Norbury

Swansea University ( email )

Singleton Park
Swansea, SA2 8PP
United Kingdom

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