Leading, Knowing and Growing from a Wu Wei Perspective: A Study of Logistics SMEs in Shanghai, China
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
The aim of the study is to investigate how owner-managers of Chinese SMEs explore and exploit knowledge while growing SMEs in the spirit of Wu Wei. SME growth has been an increasingly important topic, where there is an important link between SME leadership, knowledge and growth. However, a large body of existing research treats knowledge as a static or reified asset or resource such that these studies are mainly concerned with how to create, acquire, transfer or manage knowledge. Following that, the research methods tend to be dominated by quantitative analysis, and weighs towards large organizations in developed economies. Drawing on the data collected in China, this study employs a mixed-methods approach by administering 103 surveys, wherefrom nine owner-managers are isolated for in-depth interviews at three business stages of SMEs (micro, small and medium). By attending to three dimensions (genuine Wu Wei, You Wei and Wu Bu Wei) of a Chinese Daoist Wu Wei perspective, it re-examines the link between SME leadership, knowledge and firm growth. This empirically-derived work shows evidence of subtle changes embedded in the growing process: While owner-managers stress keeping inherent openness to explore knowledge (genuine Wu Wei) and strategically exploit knowledge deployed in their everyday leadership practice (You Wei), growth evolves as a spontaneous and continuous accomplishment (Wu Bu Wei). By adopting a Wu Wei perspective, this study makes distinctive contributions to the understanding of leadership, knowledge and growth, where leadership and knowledge co-evolve and disseminate in the dynamic processes of growing as ‘leadership becoming’ rather than ‘knowledge leadership’. Whilst fostering the co-flow and co-evolution of leading, knowing and growing, the owner-managers undertake the role of knowledge generalist, knowledge supervisor and knowledge mentor within micro, small and medium firms.
PhD in Leadership Studies