Explaining leadership in family firms: Reflexivity, social conditioning and institutional complexity

Tim Edwards, Elina Meliou

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Research on leadership in family firms has concentrated on the drivers of performance viewed in the context of reciprocal family and business logics, family or non-family CEOs operating within different family governance and administrative settings. The explanatory aim is to ascertain the optimum configuration of elements for achieving improved economic rents so the benefits of family loyalty do not negatively impact firm performance. Our thesis challenges this research, which treats family leadership as a contingent outcome of the governance and administrative contexts within which family and non-family CEOs make strategic choices. We argue that family leadership studies restrict explanations of action to a narrow bandwidth because leadership is effectively black-boxed when it is treated as an outcome of these contingent relations. To overcome this limitation we propose a nested framing of social conditioning that explains the connections between actors, organizations and multiple social orders (and not just family and business). Our contribution is to theorize family leadership in the context of multiple ‘social context – personal preference’ modes; that is, leadership is conceived through reflexivity, which is the personal process mediating the effects of our circumstances upon our actions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1271-1289
JournalHuman Relations
Issue number8
Early online date18 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2015


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