An Oscar for the CEO: Individuality, collaboration and leadership in small to medium sized enterprises

Dr. Kevin M. McKenzie
Dr. Neil E. Béchervaise

Key Words: Project Director, Auteur, Project Management, Project Leadership, Leadership

Principal author: Dr. Kevin McKenzie is the Principal of McKenzie Roic Consulting Services. An experienced Project Manager, Project Director and Management Consultant, he has managed projects and organisational change programs in the Telecommunications, IT and Utility industries. Kevin holds a Certificate of Technology in Electrical Engineering, a Bachelor of Business (Monash) and was awarded the best student award for his Master of Business Administration (RMIT). His recently completed research in the area of specialised consulting communities of practice at the Australian Graduate School of Entrepreneurship qualified him for a Doctorate of Business Administration. His research interests include knowledge management, the informal organisation, communities of practice, corporate strategy, consulting and project management processes.


The successful CEO bears striking similarities to the director of a blockbuster movie. Constantly seeking to achieve a long-term vision for organisational success in which every project undertaken within and by the company contributes to the strength of its eventual public reception, the CEO becomes the Steven Spielberg, Jiang Yimou or Akiro Kurasawa of the organisation. Just as a Film Director must constantly reassure producers and monitor audience expectations, adjusting filming schedules to maximise location use while minimising shooting costs, the CEO juggles a complex integration of internal and often politically charged activities and hierarchical structures against the demands of external stakeholders. Changes in the perception of clients, shareholders and, ultimately the board itself (often fuelled by media driven short-term sensationalism with little reqard to its sources and readers) impact the CEOs potential for immediate strategic success and longer-term strategic development.

Presenting the CEO as the author and director (auteur) of a film involving temperamental film stars and specialised movie makers in difficult locations with limited public funding for a fickle audience, this paper demonstrates the practical similarities between entrepreneurial start-ups and independent film companies, and specifically between CEOs and film directors. The paper argues that offering new but incrementally related products in a turbulent economic climate is similar to offering a new film by Stephen Spielberg starring Sean Penn and Nicole Kidman. Audiences can be assured by the reputation of the director and leading actors but they remain hesitantly critical of the potential for the director to repeat his previous critical successes.

This paper offers insights into the demands of leadership within loosely aggregated organisation of highly specialised, project specific teams to propose that demands for collaboration and effective communication may provide the marque of individuality that separates manager/CEOs from effective organisational leaders. Applying a metaphorical description of the successful CEO as film director, the paper draws insights from a substantially different work culture to confirm the roles of reputation and communication in achieving project completion on time, on budget and on specification while, at the same time, enhancing organisational and, incidentally, personal reputation among external stakeholders and consumers .


Blockbuster movies tend to become associated with a small number of directors whose reputation allows them to access substantial funding, highly priced actors high quality scripts and superior pre- and post-production teams. In parallel CEOs with big reputations tend to draw strong senior managers, strongly innovative product development and top production and marketing teams. In seemingly double-quick time, these CEOs implement change with strong board support and, in doing so, stamp the marque of their leadership on the company. Having completed their initial project, however, most of these highly individualistic CEOs move on - often with the blessing of their board but more often with a collective sigh of relief from downstream company personnel.

Organisational leadership, as Gronn and Ribbins (1996) have identified, is highly context specific. When companies decide on change, they usually start at the top. As a result, transformational change is usually associated with recently appointed CEOs whose lack of familiarity with organisational culture renders them less sympathetic with cultural resistance and more prone to act decisively against established sensibilities than leaders appointed from within.

The high churn rate among CEOs on a global scale (McKinsey, 2002) suggests increasingly rapid change in response to a turbulent economic climate and, despite Schumpeter’s (1943) prediction that capitalism would eventually die of its own success, the picture appears to be more complex. While less than ten per cent of companies last longer than ten years, their CEOs tend to last only from project to project. Increased government regulation of governance procedures may support investors but it makes little impact on consumer confidence. Instead, consumers assess the product. In a competitively volatile market environment, their choice increasingly determines both volume and quality. In this context, it is useful to consider the development and marketing of a movie as a project driven business venture with most of the entrepreneurial hallmarks of a start-up company.

Individuality and leadership

As the incumbency of the CEO in a given company becomes shorter and shorter (it is currently less than 4.2 years in Australia), the need for prospective CEOs to match their capacities and their reputations to the specific needs of their companies becomes increasingly apparent. In this context, ‘Chainsaw’ Al Dunlap can afford a reputation for cost-slashing, others can afford to become known for re-engineering, rapid expansion or stabilisation after rapid change. In this context, it is tempting to accept Bion’s (1961) ‘situational leadership’ model wherein ‘circumstances create leaders’. Bion’s model, however, demands prerequisite incumbency as CEO. Halpin and Winer’s (1957) earlier behaviorist leadership model, where leadership is learned ‘on the job’, suggests a match of experience with future application and, in one important sense, closely matches currently observed board behaviour in CEO selection.

Ricoeur (1981) asserts however, that meaning can only be determined in context Ð and every context is unique, and general contextual characteristics are identifiable across industries and across organisations. Organisational leadership, particularly when it becomes a shorter term proposition, can be seen from a project management perspective to offer insights into how individuality might become a leadership strength when collaboration is frequently seen as a necessity. Effective communication, similarly, can be seen as an increasingly uni-directional and focused function such that management effectiveness becomes a more appropriate measure of CEO success than leadership.

The complexities of leadership have been elaborated at length (Starratt 1993) and the leadership characteristics of the effective manager have been identified (Taylor and Rosenbach 1989). Within an emerging discussion of the short term CEO, trait-based leadership profiles become increasingly attractive (Bass and Avolio 1994) as they relate to the achievement of group goals (Hersey & Blanchard, 1977), and change management appears to be most rapidly and efficiently achieved by CEOs with the characteristics of missionaries and generals rather than curators (de Araugo and Béchervaise 2003).

Movie Production and Organisational Management

The movie making process with its associated pre-production, post-production and directing roles is one function of group processes (Bolman & Deal, 1994; Senge, 1990) that have become characteristic of a system over time (Ogawa & Bossert, 1995). Using the movie making process as a metaphor to shed light on how CEOs might usefully consider their role in relation to their company, this paper challenges fundamental notions of control and command structures to focus on the role of the independent Movie Director as the author of a unique organisational product.

When considering the complexity of movie making, and its relationship to organisational management, it becomes quickly evident that creating a successful movie is no simple feat. In project terms, it has a full and complex lifecycle involving three interdependent sub-projects to create the final reels of celluloid, and over which the producer is charged with delivering the final result within budget and on time. In this major studio model, the producer acts as a project director supporting stakeholders and fund-providers to realise their financial goal of extracting maximum return on investment Ð the traditional producer can be likened to the CEO of an organisation (the film), or the Project Manager of a complex large scale project.

In the pre-production phase, the Producer’s task is chiefly financial and organisational, nursing the project through the script process, obtaining financial support and arranging to hire the personnel who will work on the film. During this phase, the director has usually started work with the set unit, or production design unit to created the film’s setting.

The production (or shooting) phase is traditionally the director’s primary task. Within a complex array of organisational responsibility, the Director is charged with the challenge of achieving the artistic vision of the script through management of actors, settings and filming to meet the paying moviegoer’s expectations.
In the post-production or ‘assembly’ phase, the editor catalogues and assembles the takes produced during filming. After synchronisation of images and sound, the accumulated footage is sorted into a sequential rough cut which, in consultation with the director, is refined to the final cut.
This gross oversimplification of the filmmaking process outlines the interdependency of work tasks involved in ensuring that the movie might become a box office hit - and that contributing financiers will gain a return on their investment.

In terms of traditional organisation theory, this is a clearly a rational model - the controllers of capital have the legitimate right to manage the organisation to apply their capital in the best possible way (Smith, 1776). Organised hierarchically, the film production follows a control and command structure, wherein every participant is perceived to act from self-interest to maximise their personal reward from the work structure and outcome.

It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our necessities but of their advantages. (Smith 1776 Book 1, Ch.2)
The traditional view of the Hollywood, Pinewood, or Bombay (or Warsaw or Paris or Sydney) studio film project mirrors organisational design theory. The movie producer is the CEO for the film. The studio owners, as major stakeholders, act as a board of directors representing the interests of shareholders providing venture and operational capital. Within this tightly defined framework, organisational outcomes derive from the rational implementation of processes and procedures selected to eliminate inconsistency and variation, to minimise uncertainty and to control the logistics for goods and services distribution.

While serving the profession and industry well during times of prosperity and stability, rational project management approaches place the film director (and the company CEO) in necessarily defensive positions. Global competition for personnel and resources necessitates downsizing, encourages just-in-time solutions and stimulates constant organisational change to meet substantially constrained delivery targets along increasingly elaborated supply chains. Currency fluctuations, emerging technologies and increasingly emphatic environmental constraints reduce entrepreneurial activity, constrain development and reinforce organisational defensiveness.

Just as strategic planning suggests new product research and development, a search for new markets, and technological upgrading, traditional approaches to organisational management prompt insularity. Pro-active leadership styles that might integrate strategic delivery of projects into the day-to-day attainment of long term corporate objectives are rejected and productivity drops to match apparently falling demand. In movie terms, a director who can see beyond the immediate script to the long term potential for delivering multi-year benefits to stakeholders through on-going television rights issues and re-releases becomes imperative. Achieving transformative change at senior management levels, however, requires sailing in the face of accumulated wisdom (Hamel 2002). It requires a paradigm shift.

Management and Leadership

Béchervaise, et al (2002) suggest that the distinction between ‘leadership’ and ‘management’ is increasingly recognised. Pragmatically, Bass (1990) noted that the identification of leadership as an entity distinct from management is a relatively recent occurrence, dating only from the 1970s. While successful leadership and good management go hand in hand (Taylor & Rosenbach, 1989), the two terms are not synonymous. Hough (1992) notes the Scandinavian origins of the Løder as standing at the front of the ship and pointing the way because he carried the lodestone Ð or magnet stone Ð which allowed him to identify direction. In contrast, Hough recognises the French origins of the manager as stablemaster or keeper of the manger, caring for horses and maintaining supply lines while the troops do battle at the front.

In contemporary discourse, power-laden notions of ‘command and control’, the maintenance of "order" and "formal authority", and coercive communication are increasingly reserved as notions of ‘management’ (Senge 1990, Kotter 1990) or transactional leadership (Bass, 1985, Kouzes and Posner 1995). Management can be viewed as the practice of maintaining the status quo, consistency and order, responding to change and to problems (Ellyard, 1999; Kotter, 1990). In contrast, leadership increasingly involves participative decision-making, informal authority and inclusive open dialogic communication.

Traditionally conceptualised in terms of the leader's personality characteristics or traits, behavioural styles and contingencies (Burns 1978), leadership has been defined as a process whereby one or more individuals succeed in attempting to frame and define the reality of others (Smircich and Morgan, 1982). Indeed, leadership situations may be conceived as those in which there exists an obligation or a perceived right on the part of certain individuals to define the reality of others. Good leaders are inspirational because when there is dissatisfaction with the status quo, they recognise it, are able to present an acceptable alternative, and rally others around them to make it happen. Effective leaders build alliances and create commitment among others to share their vision (Manfred and de Vries, 1994) because leadership is about change (Bass, 1990) and transformational change implementation may demand an almost missionary zeal (de Araugo and Béchervaise, 2003).

Leadership produces innovation, allows an organisation to adapt to a changed and changing environment, and carries the organisation’s members along (Cohen, 1993; Hodgkinson, 1983). Within this agreed framework, the role of the leader is to create culture, envision the future, communicate the new vision, clarify the values of the organisation, and articulate those ideas, goals and values that provide guidance and direction for organisational change (Senge, 1990, Sergiovanni, 1996). In this context, leadership is provided by mission-directed individuals who envision, create and shape change as they create the future (Bolman & Deal, 1994; Stacey, 1992).

Modern leaders are concerned with and motivated to envision new futures for their organisations and then to guide everyone, including themselves, towards the new organisational reality (Béchervaise, et al, 2002). Community social networks, though, have emerged as self-managing organisational structures. Effective leaders govern the loose coalitions of individuals that bind the organisation together, while ensuring that formal organisational goals are achieved. This has often been the case in project teams, where members are co-opted from their formal organisation roles to provide expertise or resources to the virtual project structure.

Control and domination have no role to play within these informal communities, since conscripts hold considerable power to limit project outcomes through withholding tacit skills and knowledge.

It is often the leaders within organisations, sometimes without formal authority or hierarchical control, who create radical change or deliver outstanding results, far surpassing outcomes that could be achieved though managing the status-quo. To explain how this can occur demands an alternative perspective of organisational theory wherein the CEO and senior executives might relinquish their autocratic ‘rights’ to apparently artistically oriented (or entrepreneurial) project directors whose vision exceeds the immediately identified needs of the organisation in pursuit of longer-term survival strategies and, ultimately, for successful outcomes. In effect, this CEO as project director would be ascribed the role of ‘authoring’ a new company while leveraging the reputational capital of the existing brand.

Changing perspective - The Auteur

In the 1950s, a body of theory emerged to explain alternative views of the film making process which had grown from efforts to record the grinding reality of post-war reconstruction. Differentiating independent film-making from the production process orientation of the highly evolved American studio system, this theory labelled the director as Auteur. Auteur (derivation from French) denotes an "author" and relates to the Spanish word, autor, meaning one who is the head of a company or the manager of a group. In its simplest sense, this theory proposes the movie director as ‘author’ of a particular film and suggests a consistency of visual style and thematic pre-occupation across a body of work (Pearson, 1997). Building on Alexandre Astruc’s original 1948 coining of the term, Sarris (1962) proposed three premises to validate auteurship:

1. The technical competence of a director to perform the duties of director
2. Distinguishable recurring characteristics of the director's personal style that act as his/her ‘signature’
3. Interior meaning that can be extrapolated from the tension between the directors personality and his/her material.

Asserting the director as the controlling force, this theory allows a film to be considered as a whole or complete work of art in which one can discern the significant details of the work as they illuminate the personality and vision of the filmmaker. It proposes that the film is the artistic project of the director primarily, and ascribes his or her vision, creativity, and design as primary determinates of the finished film.

Auteur theory allows a helicopter view of a CEO’s actions across multiple organisations, directing shared reality through change processes, leadership and vision enactment. The auteur is seen as the person who does (rather than potentially can) frame the reality of others, moving the actors toward the vision of a desirable future. When looking back at the success of an organisational change, it is usually observed that the implementation of a transformational change resulted from the CEOs vision and effort as opposed to some turning of the handle on an organisational sausage machine designed to churn out quality controlled but increasingly out-of-touch products and services.

As in all organisational settings, not all CEOs are autonomous, in control or in charge, nor do they all have a comprehensive vision for their organisation. However, the assumption that the CEO can bring specific professional experience, artistry and knowledge to create project outcomes from a virtual organisation of personal experience and style allows organisations to gain a momentum of their own, legitimising the need for borrowed resources and coopted stakeholders. Rather than managing the status quo, the CEO described in this paper moves beyond managing the operation, to extracting value beyond individual projects through aligning stakeholder visions with an enacted artistry that moves the entire organisation through higher level programs toward a personal vision.

The CEO as Auteur

It is impossible to determine exactly who is ultimately responsible for the success of a company. A Marxist might see the outcome as a product of cooperation between workers of equal importance in defiance of their bosses; a Tayorist might deem the success a scientific marvel of optimal division and organisation of labour; a bureaucrat might see the outcome as the necessary outcome of perfect organisation, of processes and procedures that control the work. This paper moves to a different perspective.

If the CEO is deemed to be the Auteur, as is attributed to various, usually independent, movie directors, then a powerful enabling perspective for the profession as a whole emerges. It provides a perspective that can explain the persistence of director vision across multiple years, multiple organisations for which they have worked, and multiple organisational compositions from which an underlying thread has been woven to create success. As the Auteur, the CEO moves beyond the techno-rational actor, by whom decisions are made through a selection from available means to meet the required end, to embody a reflective practitioner, exercising a form of professional artistry based on previous experience and reflection on that experience.

Inventing the Auteur

Although discussion on the nature of the CEOs role in this paper can be framed as a philosophical discourse, the change in perspective from leader or manager to auteur achieves a practical outcome for people aspiring to this role. Generally the term CEO evokes images of a controlling force, perhaps inspiring but necessarily acceding to board and significant shareholder demands, tracking and enforcing procedures which are generally accepted as reinforcing organisational reputation, minimising industrial unrest and maintaining (usually diminishing) growth targets.

When the CEO is ascribed the role of auteur then it becomes possible to focus on immediately identifiable organisational needs and to appoint a leader who has already demonstrated a propensity for success in similar projects. As with independent film directors, the CEOs role ends with completion of the project. Credits may role across the screen as the audience files out but the role of the auteur CEO ends when the film ends.

Application of the auteurship model in appointing CEOs can be expected to generate serial leadership success. For long-term strategic development, for considered organisational expansion and for that sense of continuity that promotes a sense of shareholder and personnel security, of course, the model leaves much to be desired. Notwithstanding these concerns, it has become the dominant western CEO employment paradigm. And notwithstanding these concerns, the average lifespan of a listed S&P Index company is now less than ten years.

Individuality, reputation and successful leadership

Despite what we believe to be an alarming tendency toward shortened terms, CEOs remain the single most expensive item of disposable plant in maintaining and building organisational reputation. Their selection is among the most imprtant decisions a board of directors ever makes and, in support of that choice, it is interesting to note that boards seldom make significant errors in the selection of a CEO to meet the defined challenges they are employed to resolve. This is hardly surprising since CEOs bring their experience and their reputation for success in resolving the specifically identified problems of their new employer to the company.

More importantly, CEOs appointed to companies with specific problems are seldom unsuccessful in resolving those problems within relatively short timeframes. It is at this point, at the peak of their success, that they become most vulnerable. It is at this point that they are most likely to be abandoned by their board, their staff and the major organisational stakeholders in their company.

With immediate problems resolved, the CEO is faced with the need to extend to the next phase in leading organisational success. Threats to survival are no longer relevant or motivating, longer term strategic demands must be addressed and growth indicators tend to flatten in the wake of previous problems solved. In effect, the auteur has finished the film. Having stamped their individual marque on the organisation, they are inevitably reduced to sharing the credits while their shareholder audience lines at the ticket box of the next cinema.

Faced with the potential to select a CEO to lead the organisation into its next phase or to work with the CEO to develop the skills needed to lead into that phase, it seems profligate that companies are not increasingly adopting the latter course.

Succession planning and the CEO as auteur

Identifying the third generation curse in family business succession, Elstrodt (2003) argues that strong corporate governance and thorough induction into the needs of the organisation are essential to minimise talent erosion and maintain stakeholder confidence. Encouragement for the auteur-CEO to develop a diversely talented senior executive team supports short-term success and supports collaborative decision-making in the initial auteur phase for the CEO but it ensures that a strong leadership team with a range of accessible leadership styles and communicative strategies is available to lead the organisation through the succeeding ‘movies’ of strategically positive development or consolidation without eroding stakeholder confidence or creating a leadership void by generating non-essential leadership transitional phases. Boundary management across organisational life-cycle stages (Flamholz 1990) is sufficiently destabilising without its being artificially induced.

Instead of accepting that the film is completed and allowing, even encouraging, the auteur CEO to move on, effective succession planning for the auteur CEO, in this context, becomes a matter of establishing the organisation as a sequence of related projects for which the auteur has a pre-assembled team to realise and release the next block-buster with as much support as the first. Pursuit of this goal encourages organisational loyalty, confirms the desirability of transformational change within a learning organisation and promotes investor confidence. Achievement of the goal, however, demands strong and effective governance support and guidance for the CEO to act independently based on their professional understanding of specific situations.

The many faces of the auteur-CEO

Auteur as independent actor

Developing a sense of identity within the organisation allows the auteur-CEO to assert individual influence on organisational outcomes with confidence, knowing that the foundations for decisions and action are based on a solid foundation of experience, education and tacit know-how. Moving beyond a here-and-now frame of reference, the independence of the auteur-CEO can only add value when personal experience and individualistic style are applied confidently to the long-term issues and goals of the organisation. When the auteur-CEO and action recommend or take action autonomously, the organisation will increasingly accept transformational change as a quality imperative and require a transformational leadership perspective to ensure the leverage of independent thought into strategic action.

auteur-CEO as transformational leader

For the auteur-CEO to truly influence the organisation and turn envisioned future states into reality, transformational leadership becomes imperative. Transformational leadership approaches encourage collaborative risk-taking within supportive learning environments. Research and development become ongoing operational states rather than segregated departments. The leader encourages and rewards innovation and creativity by questioning assumptions, reframing problems and approaching old situations in new ways (Bass and Avolio, 1994). Establishing a project oriented organisation, transformational leadership (Olillia, 2000) encourages project teams to break new ground, trial alternative viewpoints or procedures and develop new perspectives Waldman (1994).
Reflective practitioners in a learning organisation

Schön’s (1991) reflective practitioner emphasises the uniqueness of professional situations, and frames problem solving in terms of finding professional patterns of behaviour that can be applied to unique contexts to attain desired or desirable objective. In a transformational learning environment, these objectives tend to manifest as a multi-facetted complex mix that is only likely to be understood, even tacitly, by an experience professional.

Schön’s (1991) auteur-CEO encourages professional reflection to strategise organisational vision, apply an artistic professionalism to understand how to realise that vision in operational terms and, through responsive allocation of resources and program timing, apply the understanding to environmental and external pressures. Reflective auteur-CEOs develop a strong understanding of strategic processes and strategic influences on the organisation - or they engage senior executive staff who can manage this element of their leadership profile.

Senior Strategist

Understanding and influencing overall organisation strategy is a key role for auteur-CEOs who plan for their own succession. Rather than reacting only entry project or first film strategic demands, auteur-CEOs develop senior level strategic capacity through executive workshopping beyond their immediate intention. Creating the reality of a very different organisation moves beyond scenario writing to identifying organisational outcomes to support and define a strategically viable future and educating stakeholders to align substantially changed strategic objectives with organisational deliverables.

Understanding the array of strategic drivers and influences on the organisation, its industry and its competitive position requires close attention to financial, social, growth, environmental and political drivers. It is not necessarily a strength for the auteur-CEO but it is a capacity that can be developed as an in-house strength within the leadership team.

Ex-officio director

Relationships matter in business and auteur-CEOs planning their own succession must manage both up and down. As initial project goals are met, the board of directors becomes increasingly satisfied with its bold but not-so-new-now appointment. With its immediate problems solved, it is able to lift its eyes to re-envision the organisation with a different future. At this point, the role of the auteur-CEO becomes highly vulnerable. Auteur-CEOs who are not educating directors at a personal level and leading board-room discussion before their first film reaches its climax tend to be ill-suited to locate themselves as appropriate leaders when the film reaches its conclusion. As ex-officio directors, auteur-CEOs concerned with maintaining their leadership in the organisation must be planning their next project before post-production cutting and editing begins on the opening project. Without this directorial involvement, they tend to be overlooked as the board envisages its new future and identified the properties of leadership that will mark this new phase.

Senior Executive Leader

While succession planning involves educating the board to its new future, the senior management team is unlikely to exercise the same foresight. Some will be recent appointees to positions that have intruded into the previous organisational culture. These may still be controlling spot-fires of discontent and team-building towards the transformational changes introduced by the auteur-CEO. Others, inherited by the CEO will still be adjusting to the changes, will still be coming to terms with the threat to their own identities engendered by every succeeding CEO.

Building trust relationships over time with each of the key executives allows the CEO to provide informal feedback and direction to executives, to directly solicit the underlying personal objectives of each as they are summarised in existing mission and vision statements and, to initiate discussions about future direction. Having been responsible for driving change, the auteur-CEO harnesses the executive team to identify both personal and organisational potential. In this learning environment, the executive team become authors of their own preferred future in close collaboration with their auteur-CEO. Working closely as a team, they become both the designers and the resource creating sustainable outcomes to support the organisation’s long-term strategy.

Informal Community Networker

Being an active member of the organisation’s informal communities, and leveraging informal relationships to achieve project and organisational objectives represents a key role for the auteur-CEO. Rather than formally networking between the board and senior executive team, the auteur-CEO is accepted as a practising member of the community, with a responsive role to play in mediating organisational intention with organisational culture and practice.

Argyris’s (1976) double loop learning approach demands that feedback in response to change implementation be applied to refining future change and, in fact, to refining the initial change. In film-making terms, the director is responsive to everyone from the wardrobe designer to the actor in front of the camera. Costumes that don’t fit, lines that don’t scan, even vaccination marks on the arms of Roman charioteers impact the success of the film - first for its cast and crew, then for the audience at large and, ultimately, in box-office returns. It is through the development of team relationships, keeping an ear to the ground, and responding pro-actively to ‘advice from the floor’ that the auteur-CEO leverages the pulse of the organisation to support morale during times of maximum stress and to encourage innovative practice.

Lifelong Learner

Auteur-CEOs bring individualistic, even trait-based, leadership styles to their roles. Characteristically, they are project-focused and, increasingly but expensively, their next leadership position is with a different organisation. The professional foundation upon which the auteur-CEO builds this definitive leadership role has been developed through a combination of experiential learning, formal education and a ‘school of hard knocks’.

A key challenge for the auteur-CEO is to understand how things work in ‘the real world’ to reconcile it with their own understanding of how things worked in the past and to develop a collaborative communication style that introduces a formal self-succession program into their project focus. Being receptive to challenge to their own ideas and being able to change actions based on newly discovered understandings is a part of the continual learning process that promotes the growth of their professional ability. Building learning organisations tends to be their short-term strength but stabilising change while re-visioning the organisation is less likely to be their priority.


Based on findings from leadership and knowledge management research involving large-scale consultancy and project management studies, and on leadership within not-for-profit organisations recently completed by the authors, this paper has explored the concept of the CEO as auteur. The paper has visualised the newly appointed CEO as responsible for re-writing the organisation through transformational leadership principles involving the development of a learning organisation which encourages double-loop learning and through which the directors and the senior executive team are related on a communicative project-driven continuum. Moving away from control and command structures, it has argued that the auteur becomes the driver for a serial redefinition of the status quo to lead project teams toward a shared and fully operationalised future reality.

Acknowledging the increasingly short tenure of the CEO, and the cost of appointing a new CEO in both organisational investment, reputation and investor confidence, the paper has proposed a means for leveraging the individualistic styles of CEOs to establish project oriented organisational outcomes.

Through a focus on independent action, transformational leadership, informal community networking and lifelong learning, it has been argued that the auteur CEO is ideally positioned to establish a learning organisation in which strategic direction is continuously recast as directors are educated to see future realities, senior executives become the strategic drivers and a responsively collaborative practitioner-leader style supports increasingly independent, flexible and responsive teams at the project management level while creating and increasingly sophisticated understanding of how projects happen more completely, efficiently and effectively at the executive client level. Delivering the now-anticipated blockbuster at the box office is assured when the reflective CEO applies artistry and skill to maximise long term value to the client organisation as viewing audience.


Argyris, C. 1976. Increasing leadership effectiveness. New York: John Wiley. Bass, B. (1985) Leadership and Performance Beyond Expectations, Free Press, New York.

Bass, B.M. (1990) in Bass & Stodgill's handbook of leadership: Theory, research and managerial applications (3rd ed.). London: The Free Press.

Bass, B. and Avolio, B. (1994) Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational Leadership, SAGE Publications Inc, Thousand Oaks, USA.

Béchervaise, N., Bourke, S. and Shephard, M. (2002) Creating a knowledge organisation through cultural transformation: Rethinking the paradigm, Standards Australia Knowledge Management Challenge Conference Proceedings, May 8-9, Sydney, Australia.

Burns, M. (1978) Leadership. New York: Harper and Row.

Bolman, L. G. & Deal, T. E. (1994) Looking for leadership: Another search party's report. Education Administration Quarterly. Vol. 29(2), pp. 142-163.
Cohen, S. (1993) New approaches to teams and teamwork. In J. R. Galbraith, E. E. Lawler and associates (Eds) Organising for the future; The new logic for managing complex organisations. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, pp. 194-235

de Araugo, J. and Béchervaise, N.E. 2003) Leadership as intellectual capital in expert communities of practice: Stereotypes, archetypes and changing organisational demands, 6th World Congress of Intellectual Capital. Toronto, Canada, January.

Ellyard, P. (1999) Vision: Management versus leadership. The Professional Reading Guide. Vol. 20(3) pp 1-2.

Flamholtz, E.G. (1990). Growing Pains: How to Make the Transition from an Entrepreneuship to a Professionally Managed Firm, Jossey-Bass Publishers, San Francisco.

Gronn, P. & Ribbins, P. (1996) Leaders in context: Post positivist approaches to understanding educational leadership. Educational Administration Quarterly. 32 (3) pp 452-473.

Hamel, G. 2002) Leading the Revolution. New York: Plume

Handy, C. (1995) The empty raincoat: Making sense of the future. London: Arrow Books, Random House.

Hersey, P. & Blanchard, K.H. (1977) Managemen of Organisational Behavior: Utilizing Human Resources (3rd ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

Hodgkinson, C. (1983) The philosophy of leadership. Oxford: Blackwell.

Hough, M. (1992) Applying total quality management concepts to education, Incorporated Association of Registered Teachers of Victoria, Jolimont, Australia.

Kotter, J. P. (1990) A force for change: How leadership differs from management, The Free Press, New York.

Kouzes, J. M. and Posner, B. Z. (1995) The Leadership Challenge, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.
Manfred, F.R. and de Vries, K. (1994) 'The Leadership Mystique', Academy of Management Executive, No. 3.

Olillia,S. (2000) Creativeness and Innovativeness Through Reflective Project Leadership, Creativity and Innovation Management, Sept., Vol 9(3), pp.195-201.

Pearson, M. (1997) Authorship and the films of David Lynch, http://www.british sourced Sept 2003.

Schön, D. (1991) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Senge, P. M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization, London: Random House.

Sarris, A. (1971) Notes on Auteur Theory in 1962 in Sitney P.A. (ed), Film Culture Anthropology, Secker and Warburg.

Sergiovanni, T. J. (1996) Leadership for the schoolhouse: How is it different? Why is it important? Jossey-Bass, San Fransisco.

Smircich, L. and Morgan, G. (1982) Leadership: The Management of Meaning, The Journal of Behavioural Science, Vol. 18, No. 3. pp. 257-273.

Smith, A. (1776). Of the Principle which gives occasion to the Division of Labour in The wealth of nations, Book I, Chapter 2, Reprint. Penguin Books, UK.

Stacey, R. D. (1992) Managing the unknowable, Jossey-Bass, San Francisco.

Starratt 1993) The Drama of Leadership, London: Falmer

Taylor, R. L. & Rosenbach, W. E. (Eds) (1989) Leadership: Challenges for today's manager, Nichols Publishing, New York.

Waldman, D. (1994) Transformational Leadership in Multifunctional Teams in Bass, B. and Avolio, B. (1994) Improving Organizational Effectiveness Through Transformational Leadership, SAGE Publications Inc, Thousand Oaks, USA. pp. 84-103.