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PhD Defence Carolin Neffe | Leading well at the helm of family firms

Leading well at the helm of family firms

Due to the COVID-19 crisis the PhD defence of Carolin Neffe will take place (partly) online.

The PhD defence can be followed by a live stream.

Carolin Neffe is a PhD student in the research group Change Management & Organizational Behaviour (CMOB). Her supervisor is prof.dr. C.P.M. Wilderom from the Faculty of Behavioural, Management and Social Sciences (BMS).

Family-based top leadership can be seen as a source of competitive advantage, but at the same time may be potentially challenging for any family firm. This dissertation concentrates on one of the most elusive factors of business families: family-firm leadership. In particular, this thesis contributes to several interlinked research domains in the academic family-firm literature: (transformational) leadership; non-family vs. family management; top management teams; familiness; upper-echelon theory; and emotional intelligence. Each of the three empirical studies presented in this thesis examines leadership in family firms from a particular perspective, drawing on leadership theory, group theory and various other theories within Business Administration’s strands of Organizational Behavior and Entrepreneurship. The first interview-type study compared the leadership behavior of successful family and non-family executives in family firms. Their behavioral repertoires are found to be more alike than different. Based on the results of this initial study, two specific leadership mechanisms were subsequently tested. Channeled by three propositions and eight hypotheses, the findings indicate a relationship between CEO transformational leadership style and family-firm performance, moderated and mediated by a set of specific, hypothesized variables at the apex of the family firm. Empirical data for these quantitative studies were collected in German family firms. Survey-based data was gathered from 72 different family-based companies with CEOs who are parts of the owning families where their other TMT members were not. When collecting the survey data, two questionnaires were used: one for the family CEOs (collecting leadership self-assessments and objective company’s performance data) and the other for the TMT members (on leadership aspects and team characteristics). In total, 72 CEOs and 245 top-management team members participated in these two quantitative studies.

Results of the second study show that family CEOs are capable of transferring familiness through leading a non-family TMT with a TFL style. The third study’s results showed that TMT behavioral integration mediates between CEO TFL and firm performance and CEO emotional intelligence (EI) is directly related to CEO TFL and indirectly to TMT behavioral integration. Moreover, TMT EI is found to moderate the association between CEO TFL and TMT behavioral integration. In sum, the results of the three empirical studies underline the importance of the socio-emotional skills of leaders at the helm of family firms; non-family-based leaders can compensate in case these skills are not present in the make-up of the family-based CEO. Thus, future research must find out how successful non-family executives may complement family executives: with what set of abilities, such as engaging communication skills, rational decision-making, and emotional intelligence. Chapter V offers various suggestions for further research as well as theoretical and practical implications.