Strategic leadership is concerned with studying the characteristics and actions of top organizational leaders—those individuals who are tasked with formulating and implementing the firm’s strategy—and the associated strategic and performance implications. Strategic leadership is rather loosely defined, with no agreed-upon definition to date. Most scholars of strategic leadership agree, however, that strategic leaders include the chief executive officer (CEO) and other non-CEO top executives (sometimes referred to as the CEO’s top team). As such, studies within this stream focus either on the CEO alone or on the entire top management team (TMT). The TMT is generally defined as the CEO’s direct subordinates, or all executives at the level of vice president or above (sometimes referred to as the C-level; for instance, chief financial officer); however, the size of the TMT can vary significantly across organizations. Some scholars choose to include boards of directors in their conceptualization of strategic leadership, recognizing the board’s important advisory, monitoring, and resource provision roles. Because boards of directors are more frequently studied and included in the realm of corporate governance, this article excludes them from review. While research on strategic leadership is a major area within strategy, it often draws from the disciplines of psychology, sociology, organizational economics, and organizational behavior. The resultant literature is broad and diverse, reflecting different theoretical perspectives. In this article, we first introduce a number of relevant textbooks and handbooks, followed by a discussion of key theories in the area. Next, we discuss specific streams of research within the literature on strategic leadership. We conclude with a brief review of the literature on executive succession (i.e., the transition of decision-making responsibilities between different leaders or sets of leaders).
Textbooks and Handbooks
Textbooks on strategic management, such as Hitt, et al. 2014 and Carpenter and Sanders 2008, provide appropriate introductory readings on the theory and practice of strategic leadership. These readings can be complemented with textbooks on leadership research and practice (e.g., Northouse 2013), which provide an understanding of micro foundations of strategic leadership. Handbooks are especially useful as reference sources to graduate students (see Carpenter 2011; Finkelstein, et al. 2009; Hitt, et al. 2006; and Pettigrew, et al. 2001).
Carpenter, Mason A., ed. Handbook of Research on Top Management Teams. Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar, 2011.
In this edited fifteen-chapter book, Carpenter compiles extant research on top management teams and boards of directors, with an emphasis on providing new directions for future research. A great complement to Finkelstein, et al. 2009.
Carpenter, Mason A., and William Gerard Sanders. Strategic Management: A Dynamic Perspective; Concepts and Cases. 2d ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2008.
A textbook aimed at undergraduate and graduate students that covers areas of strategic management not only from a holistic but also a dynamic viewpoint, focusing on how internal strategic choices interact with external environmental conditions.
Finkelstein, Sydney, Donald C. Hambrick, and Albert A. Cannella Jr. Strategic Leadership: Theory and Research on Executives, Top Management Teams, and Boards. Strategic Management. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.
Graduate students will find Finkelstein and colleagues’ book a very useful resource for reviewing academic research on strategic leadership and generating new research interests and ideas.
Hitt, Michael A., R. Edward Freeman, and Jeffrey S. Harrison, eds. The Blackwell Handbook of Strategic Management. Handbooks in Management. Oxford: Blackwell, 2006.
This edited book compiles the works of eminent strategy scholars to expose graduate students and other researchers to key research areas and topics in the discipline of strategic management.
Hitt, Michael A., R. Duane Ireland, and Robert E. Hoskisson. Strategic Management: Competitiveness and Globalization; Concepts and Cases. 11th ed. Stamford, CT: Cengage Learning, 2014.
This very popular textbook introduces key concepts of strategic management under the framework of “strategic management process,” which should help undergraduate students understand the work of strategic leaders. Chapters 10 and 12 are devoted to discussions on corporate governance and strategic leadership, respectively.
Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and Practice. 6th ed. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 2013.
The textbook provides a rich coverage of micro foundational perspectives on leadership that can supplement more direct readings on strategic leadership for undergraduate students.
Pettigrew, Andrew M., Howard Thomas, and Richard Whittington, eds. Handbook of Strategy and Management. London: SAGE, 2001.
This edited book provides an in-depth review of the theory and practice of strategic management, as well as directions for future research from the viewpoint of well-respected scholars of major areas of management. In Part 2, Gerald Davis and Michael Useem’s chapter focuses on strategic leadership and corporate governance specifically (“Top Management, Company Directors and Corporate Control,” pp. 232–258).
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