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Autobiographical vignettes in Annual Report CEO letters as a lens to understand how leadership is conceived and enacted.

Craig, R. and Amernic, J. (2020) 'Autobiographical vignettes in Annual Report CEO letters as a lens to understand how leadership is conceived and enacted.', Accounting, auditing and accountability journal., 33 (1). pp. 106-123.


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to examine autobiographical vignettes that are embedded in the annual report letters to shareholders of chief executive officers (CEOs). The aim is to reveal the capacity of this narrative to self-construct leader identity, show how they can help CEOs attain legitimacy and how they help CEOs to exert management control. Design/methodology/approach: The paper is positioned within literature that focuses on the importance of the annual report CEO letter and the strategic use of CEO autobiographical vignettes therein. Three autobiographical vignettes included in letters to shareholders signed by E. Hunter Harrison, CEO of Canadian National Railway (2004, 2005 and 2007), are analysed using close reading techniques. This involved the authors separately reading each vignette by slowing down the reading process to aid understanding of the text’s “inner workings”. Several close readings of each vignette were conducted until a consensus was reached between the authors. Findings: Autobiographical vignettes have strong potential to be used strategically, as rhetorical devices, to help CEOs exert management control, facilitate change, shape leader-follower relationships and sustain self-legitimacy. Originality/value: This paper is the first within the accounting domain to highlight the potential for autobiographical narrative in a CEO’s annual letter to shareholders to convey corporate information (including strategic intent), to construct leader identity and to exert management control.

Item Type:Article
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Publisher statement:This article is © Emerald Group Publishing and permission has been granted for this version to appear here Emerald does not grant permission for this article to be further copied/distributed or hosted elsewhere without the express permission from Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
Date accepted:31 July 2019
Date deposited:31 July 2019
Date of first online publication:13 September 2019
Date first made open access:13 September 2019

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