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Imagining a new world: A life narrative approach to leadership

Research Cluster

Speaker:Ajit Nayak, University of Exeter
Date: Monday 17 October 2011
Time: 4.00 pm
Location: Conference Room 1, XFI Building

Further details

In this paper I analyze the life narratives of NR Narayana Murthy, the founder of Infosys, one of India’s largest and most successful organizations. Life narratives are built around prototypic exemplars, ongoing episodes, and key life events. These events generate a strong emotional response in the leader and become part of their reflexively constructed identity. Data for analysing Narayana Murthy’s narratives were collected from thirty eight speeches he gave to a wide variety of audiences. The analysis shows three discursive themes dominate Murthy’s reflexivity: 1) founding and leading Infosys; 2) nation-building; 3) engaging with the West and globalization. Collectively these three themes are marshalled by Murthy to make sense of his experience at Infosys, his engagement with India’s role as an emerging economy and his vision for ‘a better India, a better world’. By drawing on the narratives of Murthy I aim to address three deficiencies in the extant leadership literature. Firstly, empirically leadership studies have been US-centric. As India emerges as a key global player, leaders of Indian organizations will play an important role in informing global discourse. Examining leadership theory in light of non-western leaders provides new insights. Secondly, in light of the various governance scandals in the West, business leaders such as Murthy can offer insights into responsible governance. Thirdly, I depart from the dominant emphasis on leadership styles in the literature. Instead I focus on key life events which shaped the leader. I argue that leaders make and give sense to leading by constructing, developing and revising their life-stories, communicating similarity with followers, and resonating with a diverse set of followers.