Storied transitions: post-trauma growth and narrative imagination in leadership development

DProf thesis

Stanford, M. 2021. Storied transitions: post-trauma growth and narrative imagination in leadership development. DProf thesis Middlesex University / Ashridge Business School Business School
TypeDProf thesis
TitleStoried transitions: post-trauma growth and narrative imagination in leadership development
AuthorsStanford, M.

Conventional leadership development fails to acknowledge that leadership can be traumatic, or that leadership development has a duty to help leaders grow through their traumatic leadership experiences.
Clinical research shows that victims of profoundly destabilising experiences can grow when they shift their narrative-shaping and exploration mechanisms (Calhoun & Tedeschi, 2013, 2014).
Storied Transitions brings post-trauma growth practice into the world of leadership development to explore how leadership development practitioners can help leaders grow when they are destabilised by their experiences.
Building on clinical research in post-trauma growth (e.g. Calhoun and Tedeschi, 2013, 2014;; Meichenbaum, 2014; Janoff-Bulman, 1990; 2014) and narrative psychology (e. g. Freedman & Combs, 1996; Denborough, 2014; McAdams, 1993; Crossley, 2000), the inquiry asks: how can leadership development help leaders explore their narrative worlds so that they can use their most difficult leadership challenges as catalysts for personal growth? In the context of the inquiry, narrative refers to the stories consciously or unconsciously attached to events, experiences, objects or images in order to give them meaning.
The inquiry builds on the literature in clinical research in post-trauma growth, narrative psychology and a selection of other clinical approaches (evolutionary, existential and depth psychology, e.g. Buss, 2004, 2005; Yalom, 1980, 1989, 1999; Strenger, 2011; Stein, 1998, 2003; Kalsched, 2013). It also explores the researcher’s experience of developing a narrative-based self-therapy practice in the wake of his own profoundly destabilising leadership experience. It includes observations from taking this emerging practice into leadership development programs and into counselling for individual executives.
The inquiry concludes that the challenges of leadership can be traumatic when they shatter narratives that have been essential to the leader’s self- and worldview. It shows how difficult leadership experiences can disable narrative-shaping and exploration mechanisms. It demonstrates how imagination is essential to re-establishing those mechanisms.
The inquiry recommends that practitioners who support leaders through their disruptive transitions integrate narrative imagination into their work. It suggests a narrative exploration process that includes confession, interpretation, education and transformation to help leaders emerge from their experiences with a stronger sense of self, with deeper relationships, and healthier life philosophies.

KeywordsPost-trauma growth; posttraumatic growth; narrative imagination; narrative exploration; narrative therapy; leadership trauma, leadership development
Sustainable Development Goals3 Good health and well-being
Middlesex University ThemeHealth & Wellbeing
Research GroupWork and Learning Research Centre
Department nameBusiness School
Institution nameMiddlesex University / Ashridge Business School
Publication dates
Print11 Oct 2022
Publication process dates
Deposited11 Oct 2022
Accepted11 Feb 2021
Output statusPublished
Accepted author manuscript
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