The doctoral dissertations of the former Helsinki University of Technology (TKK) and Aalto University Schools of Technology (CHEM, ELEC, ENG, SCI) published in electronic format are available in the electronic publications archive of Aalto University - Aaltodoc.

Leadership in a Small Enterprise

Helena Palmgren

Doctoral dissertation for the degree of Doctor of Science in Technology to be presented with due permission of the Faculty of Information and Natural Sciences for public examination and debate in Auditorium AS1 at the Aalto University School of Science and Technology (Espoo, Finland) on the 7th of May 2010 at 12 noon.

Dissertation in PDF format (ISBN 978-952-60-3101-9)   [886 KB]
Dissertation is also available in print (ISBN 978-952-60-3100-2)


Leadership is often seen as the premier force behind the success and failure of enterprises and the well-being of the personnel. In spite of the vast amount of studies on leadership, leadership in small enterprises has seldom been in focus in leadership research. The increasing importance of small firms to the economic growth and competitiveness raises questions about the role and practice of leadership in small enterprises. This study aims to deepen our understanding of leadership as a social phenomenon and a human activity in small, entrepreneurial enterprises.

The study is based on an analytical review of leadership research and studies on small firms, family businesses, and entrepreneurship relevant to the investigation of leadership in small enterprises. A case study in a small, entrepreneurial enterprise builds up the empirical part of the study. It utilizes the phenomenographic framework as a constructivist-interpretative research approach to leadership. The data was generated during a one-year development project, and consists of interviews of the company managers and the owner-manager, a life-story of the company and company documents. The managers' interviews function as the primary data. Through the phenomenographic, contextual analysis twelve different categories of leadership conceptions are generated that describe the qualitatively different ways in which the managers experienced leadership. The relationships between the conception categories are further analyzed and five categories that reveal the central themes of leadership in the small enterprise are generated.

By utilizing a novel methodology in examining leadership in a small enterprise this study contributes an alternative perspective to leadership compared to the mainstream leadership research and produces a tentative, conceptual model of leadership in a small enterprise. The study raises concerns about the taken for granted conceptions of leadership as something good and indispensable and their power related implications in organizations; particularly in small, owner-run enterprises, where employees are dependent on the owner-manager. The practical contribution of the study is associated with such issues as consciousness about the social construction of leadership and leadership ideals, their interpretation and utilization in the everyday life in organizations and their implications to organizations and organizational members. Suggestions for meeting leadership expectations and developing participatory approach to leadership in small enterprises are provided.

Keywords: leadership, management, small enterprises, entrepreneurship, phenomenography

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Last update 2011-05-26