Research Output

An exploration of the core dynamics of business leadershipthrough the metaphor of equine herd leadership.

  This cross-disciplinary qualitative research identifies the hidden dynamics, mechanisms
and structures forming the core process of leadership, employing an equine-herd
metaphor to exclude the complexities generated by the workplace environment. To
determine the equine metaphor's suitability, the research commenced with a literature
review of accepted academic leadership and followership theories for humans and
animals. Thereafter, this original research employed a qualitative methodology of
twenty-six semi-structured interviews, eliciting peoples' experiences and interpretations
of workplace leadership, and in parallel, equine specialists' observations and
interpretations of equine leadership. Over forty hours of interviewing, reflects a
combined total of over five hundred year's workplace experience and over three
hundred years of equestrian experience.
Employing a phenomenological approach, these observations and reflections are
interpreted through code and theme based template analysis of the interview
transcripts. The 'raw' interview tape-recordings are then analysed by identifying notable
expressions, emotions and emphasis, to identify underlying stories. These emergent
stories and template data are subsequently 're-storied' as two separate narratives for
human leadership and equine leadership, providing a vehicle for comparing and
contrasting the leadership process interviewees described. The resultant information
was viewed through the lens of critical realism, to seek the underlying dynamics,
mechanisms and structures driving the leadership:followership process.
The contribution to practice is a new understanding of how the leadership process
actually works. Furthermore, striking similarities between human and animal leadership
processes introduce the possibility of parallel evolution of leadership in equines,
humans and many other socially-grouping species. The results also suggest that
organisations led by one individual, (appointed outwith their team), followed by an
essentially linear subordinate hierarchy is an un-natural leadership process and
potentially flawed.
Far from leadership being something leaders do to followers, this research suggests
that leading is something followers permit and empower leaders to do.
Simplified, the process identified in natural leadership is as follows:
1) A confident, experienced socially-dominant individual has a vision or need and
decides to take action.
2) They become a leader only when a quorum of other socially-dominant
individuals choose to follow them.
3) When the quorum of social dominants start to follow, it triggers consensus
focussed decision-making by the remaining team.
The process is effectively 'team appointed' leaders being 'primus inter pares' (first
amongst equals in the socially dominant group) with the strongest dynamic being the
choice to follow not the choice to lead. This dynamic operates within a non-linear social
structure, based on a mechanism of dyadic relationships, to form the leadership
process that delivers effective leadership outcomes.
This research, combined with previous scientific studies also overturns the myth that aggression-based 'alpha-male' dominance drives leadership in nature - in fact it
normally represents crisis leadership, or dysfuctional behaviour more typically observed
in captivity. It generates dysfunctional behaviours potentially detrimental to team
performance - in humans, generating negative business outcomes.
This cross-disciplinary research brings together the business and scientific worlds to
provide new insights into leadership and, in defining the core process, provides a
contextual framework to enhance understanding of existing leadership theories and
assist organisations in reviewing and improving their leadership processes.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    24 October 2012

  • Publication Status:


  • Library of Congress:

    HD28 Management. Industrial Management

  • Dewey Decimal Classification:

    658 General management


Benson, D. C. An exploration of the core dynamics of business leadershipthrough the metaphor of equine herd leadership. (Thesis)


Academic leadership; equine herd metaphor; followership; social-grouping;

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