Research Output
An examination of strategic leadership in a dynamic context: The case of the German automobile manufacturer, BMW
  BMW was first founded in 1916 and has more than 100 years of history within the global automotive industry (Lechner, 2020). There have been many events that have presented the business with extraordinary challenges (Krüger, 2019), but the current challenges BMW face are different. Following an extensive period of prosperous development and flourishing commercial success, the business is fundamentally redefining BMW (Zetsche, 2019). Simultaneously, many changes are occurring from substantial application of new technologies to innovative competitors, investments for electrification of the cars, sustainability policies, and changing consumer preferences are forcing BMW to reconsider their business models and leadership approaches (Cornet et al., 2019; Donkin, Binvel, & Stemmler, 2016; Krüger, 2019; Mohr et al., 2013; Telang, 2018; Zetsche, 2019). It is essential to understand required adjustments to the traditional approach to leadership at BMW, which has its origin in a more command-and-control mentality. Now the role of senior executives has become a substantial critical success factor in the organisational transformation (Greer & Carter, 2013 Becker, 2019; Cornet et al., 2019). The apparent research question raised is how do BMW senior executives experience this unprecedented and challenging situation and choose to perform their role accordingly. This study examines strategic leadership by illuminating relevant contextual relationships which influence leaders’ actions within a specific context. The research offers a novel approach to studying leadership practice by employing a single case study drawing upon the philosophy of pragmatism. The attention is towards the description of the complexity and contextuality rather than decreasing or disconnecting it. By conducting eighteen interviews with BMW senior executives and nine interviews with external consultants the study captures multiple voices and perspectives. The examination provides a comprehensive and detailed description of the occurring problem and accordingly what practical solution can be applied. In this regard the recognition and conceptualisation of context and its dependencies have not been an essential part of most leadership research (Fairhurst, 2009; Iszatt-White, 2011; Johns, 2001, 2006; Oc, 2018; Porter & McLaughlin, 2006). Nevertheless, the focus on leadership in a specific context provides an advantageous insight into the leadership practice—because leadership and its effectiveness are in large part dependent upon the context (Osborn, Hunt & Jauch, 2002; Moir, 2018; Poser, 2017; Wang, 2018). The study shows how senior executives perceive the specific dynamic context within the changing automotive industry. The conclusion of the examination is that the senior executives consider the current business changes and employ a combination of ambidexterity and meaningful action towards an envisioned outcome. The examination of the strategic leadership shows that an approach to leadership in the dynamic context comprises of an application of this ambidextrous attitude. This approach deals with the critical organisational and business-related legacies and simultaneously implement a new way to lead—which copes with the dynamic changes in the industry.

  • Type:


  • Date:

    05 October 2020

  • Publication Status:


  • DOI:


  • Funders:

    Edinburgh Napier Funded


Clarenbach, U. An examination of strategic leadership in a dynamic context: The case of the German automobile manufacturer, BMW. (Thesis). Edinburgh Napier University. Retrieved from



BMW; strategic leadership; pragmatism; automotive industry

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