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The CEO Role in New Zealand: Perceptions and Interpretative Schema - Tensions and Paradoxes

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posted on 2021-11-15, 02:33 authored by McNally, Beverley

This thesis examines the perceptions of the CEO role in large New Zealand organisations. The study is a response to calls from scholars for more empirical work on executive leadership specifically, as it pertains to the CEO role, which scholars have identified as an under-researched and less clearly understood construct. A modified grounded theory approach was utilised to establish the research participants' perceptions of the CEO role. Specifically, this thesis focuses on how the participants interpret and construct meaning from the interactions occurring within their context. The sample for the study comprised 30 participants, 22 CEOs and 8 executives in non-CEO roles. The criteria for selection related to the position an individual held in an organisation. The individual was, or had been, a CEO in a large New Zealand organisation or was directly involved with the CEO role, for example, a board chairperson. The primary data were collected from semi-structured interviews of between one to two hours in duration. Informal interviews, company publications and documentation, and the relevant research literature supplemented the primary data. The concurrent data collection and analysis identified two interpretative schemas that guide and inform the CEO role. These were the leadership interpretative schema and the institutionalised interpretative schema. The participants in this study articulated theenactment of their leadership within the frame of the leadership interpretative schema. However, the predominant schema informing the CEO role was the institutionalised interpretative schema. The contact between the two schemas represented collisions. Such collisions, in turn, created a set of tensions and paradoxes for the CEO. In seeking a clearer explanation of these tensions and paradoxes, the study identified the basic social structural process of the CEO role as a social institution. This thesis re-conceptualises the CEO role as a social institution. As such it is a multifaceted construct with its own set of social norms that create, guide and sustain a socialorder governing the behaviour of the CEO. Situated within this social structural process the study identified the social psychological process balancing the tensions and paradoxes. The study identified that the CEOs perceived the need to be able to balance the tensions and paradoxes within their context if they are to enact their role effectively. In other words, an effective CEO is perceived as acting as a mediator, successfully mediating between the dualities created by the conflicting expectations of the two interpretative schemas. Establishing context as a primary factor within the study allowed the contextual factors that enhanced or inhibited the enactment of the CEO role in New Zealand to receive their due emphasis. Such a focus was responsible for allowing the social, cultural, legal and economic forces, within the context of the CEO, to be brought to the fore. These, in turn, were perceived by the participants as having their genesis within in the religious, economic and historical traditions of New Zealand's European colonialism, and in their responses to it. In this study, context is embraced as a means for allowing the voices of the participants to be brought forward and be heard, whereas, the concept of voice has been traditionally ascribed to the weak, minorities, and disadvantaged (Baez, 2002). Paradoxically, this research identified that CEOs perceive themselves as having little voice. This despite the perception, both within society and within organisations, that CEOs have considerable power and status and therefore have the ability to voice their 'true feelings'. The analysis identified that they perceive constraints and silencing with regard to certain aspects of their role, suggesting further research on the CEO responses to such constraints is required. The outcomes of this study have implications for research and practice. In terms of the former, there are opportunities for researchers to build on the findings of the study thereby, contributing to the body of knowledge. With regards to practice, the study raises implications for those involved in the governance function, policy-makers and those having responsibilities for the development of individuals to fill the CEO role.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Doctor of Philosophy

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

Victoria Management School


Riad, Sally; Davies, John