Skip to main content

Please enter a keyword and click the arrow to search the site

Leadership development through experimentation: a theoretical framework and empirical test


Journal of Management Development


Strategy and Entrepreneurship

Authors / Editors

Birkinshaw J;Gudka M

Publication Year



Purpose Many theories have been proposed to understand and improve the process of leadership development. One useful way to structure the literature is around three complementary perspectives, briefly summarized as the “knowing, doing and being” dimensions of leadership. While the complementarities between these perspectives have been discussed, the mechanisms by which they are linked are less clear. The purpose of this paper is to examine the role of experimentation as one such mechanism. Design/methodology/approach Building on interviews and prior literature, the authors argue that experimentation consists of two processes: task-prototyping focused on the work overseen by the leader and self-prototyping focused on how the leader relates to others. This study proposes a theoretical framework linking experimentation to action-taking (e.g. being entrepreneurial and taking on challenging assignments), which in turn links to leader effectiveness. The authors test the hypotheses on two groups of leaders (481 business school alumni and 310 financial services leaders). Findings The authors find evidence that both forms of experimentation provide significant explanatory power in understanding why some individuals engage in higher levels of action-taking than others. Additionally, their study confirms the central role of action-taking in leadership development. Originality/value Conceptually, this study distinguishes two dimensions of experimentation and their connection to action-taking, knowledge development and identity development. Empirically, the authors show that these two experimentation activities were significant predictors of action-taking, even after controlling for all other factors, and that action-taking (along with self-prototyping) was an important predictor of leader effectiveness. The results offer a practical framework for leadership and development professionals to use in designing and evaluating leadership development activities.

Available on ECCH


Select up to 4 programmes to compare

Select one more to compare
subscribe_image_desktop 5949B9BFE33243D782D1C7A17E3345D0

Sign up to receive our latest news and business thinking direct to your inbox


Sign up to receive our latest course information and business thinking

Leave your details above if you would like to receive emails containing the latest thought leadership, invitations to events and news about courses that could enhance your career. If you would prefer not to receive our emails, you can still access the case study by clicking the button below. You can opt-out of receiving our emails at any time by visiting: or by unsubscribing through the link provided in our emails. View our Privacy Policy for more information on your rights.