Chen & Nadkarni (2017): It’s about Time! CEOs’ Temporal Dispositions, Temporal Leadership, and Corporate Entrepreneurship

Jianhong Chen -Peter T. Paul College of Business and Economics, University of New Hampshire
Sucheta Nadkarni – Judge Business School, University of Cambridge

Xena Welch Guerra – University of St.Gallen
Amulya Tata -ETH Zürich

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Question 1. In this study, you look at two temporal dispositions, namely time urgency (the feeling of being chronically hurried) and pacing style (one’s pattern of effort over time in working toward deadlines). Having pioneered research on temporal orientations in strategy research (e.g. Nadkarni and Chen, 2014; Nadkarni, Chen and Chen, 2016) how did the idea for this paper emerge? – In one of your previous studies (Nadkarni and Chen, 2014) you found that temporal focus correlates with new product introduction; What relationship do you expect temporal focus to have with temporal leadership and in turn corporate venturing?

Early on, we were quite fascinated with the rich tradition of research in psychology that views time very differently from the way it has been conceptualized in strategy and organizational theory – as an external contingency imposed on executives. The idea that how individuals construct time internally disposes them to behave and act differently was something that very unique and interesting, but also very important, particularly in the context of strategy. So we started out with exploring whether these constructs actually matter in strategic setting by looking at temporal focus and temporal depth. In this paper, we wanted to explore two new temporal constructs that we believe are very pertinent to understanding the micro-dispositional sources of time in strategy—time urgency and pacing style. We wanted to understand how time urgency and pacing style pan out in strategy and then thought of corporate entrepreneurship as a suitable dependent variable to explore these relationships.

Another thing that drove us to towards this model was the increasing importance of “opening the black box” in strategic leadership research. Many leading scholars have called researchers to open the black box and investigate the underlying processes and mechanisms that link CEO dispositions, but very few studies have taken up this call, particularly with regards to temporal dispositions. So we wanted to try our best to actually do this. We thought of temporal leadership as a mediator to create a coherent theme around time in our model.

With regards to temporal focus, we would expect future and present temporal focus to relate more strongly to corporate venturing than past temporal focus, particularly in high-tech industries where anticipating and seizing transient opportunities is important. It is also possible that present and future temporal focus could interact and help CEOs temporally bridge the present with the future.

Question 2. A relevant theoretical contribution of your paper lies in opening the black-box between CEO dispositions and strategic outcomes. Examining the mediating role of temporal leadership, you provide a process model for the relationship between temporal dispositions and corporate entrepreneurship. It seems as if temporal leadership contains a range of “operational” or “implementation-related” aspects. To what extent would these manifest themselves in the context of larger organizations? Further; to what extent could the temporal dispositions of other organizational actors, such as the board of directors or other key executives, interfere with this process model?

Temporal leadership captures how leaders manage time in accomplishing the tasks effectively and in a timely manner. In this sense, temporal leadership will be an important and direct determinant of how CEOs interact in teams – top management teams as well as corporate boards. Temporal leadership fits very well within the emerging research on CEO interface with top management teams and boards. Temporal leadership may also have an indirect “trickle down” effect at other levels of the organization. Because CEOs are role models for top, middle and lower managers in the organization, their temporal leadership behaviors may be imitated and adapted at other levels in the organization. If we go further, such trickle-down over time may create a time management culture in the organization that is reflective of the temporal leadership of CEOs.

That said, you do make an important point about factors that could “interfere” with the process model presented in this paper. In fact, this interference is a huge opportunity for building on and extending the model presented in our paper. For example, it would be very interesting to see how the convergence or divergence between the temporal dispositions of corporate board members and key executives highlights the need for temporal leadership. It may be that temporal leadership is most important when there is divergence in temporal dispositions either between CEO and others or among board and top management teams or both. Temporal leadership may help reduce conflicts, ambiguities and gaps that are likely to arise from different temporal orientations of members and foster more effective decision-making. This is an important area to explore in future studies.


Question 3. By focusing on SMEs located in three high-tech industrial parks in China’s Guangdong and Shandong provinces you have chosen an exciting context to test your hypotheses. What was the process like for you in terms of looking for the context of this study? In Robert Levine’s book „a geography of time“ he emphases the impact culture and geography can have on temporal dispositions and behaviors, for example on savings. How do you think the findings from your study would change in a new region with a different pace of life?‬‬‬‬

Yes, we were quite excited to conduct research in Chinese SMEs. This setting provides a very interesting setting to examine time. The starting point for choosing an empirical context was the appropriateness of the context, but at the same time also provided us access to collection of CEO and TMT data at multiple time periods. Given that SMEs are increasingly important in China as fuels of the economy and time is particularly important in the fast changing and emerging high-tech context in China. Another point was that CEOs hold particularly high levels of discretion because of the high power-distance culture—this was consistent with our focus on the CEO as the level of analysis. That said, collecting this primary data required significant efforts and Jianhong made multiple trips to physically collect data from the participating companies. Because Jianhong spoke Chinese and knew the context deeply, we could get high response rates and high quality data and also interpret the findings more meaningfully. One particularly unique finding was the lack of support for our theorized significant difference in the effects of CEOs’ steady-action and early-action styles on CEO temporal leadership and corporate entrepreneurship. The fast changing and transient nature of the emerging Chinese high-tech industry context made early action style as important as steady action style and steady action style did not render any additional benefits implied in previous research. The differential effects of these two styles may be more apparent in other settings where the economy or the industry is not growing as fast and opportunities are rare. In such environments, continuous refinement and acute sensitivity to feedback inherent in the CEO steady-action style may provide additional benefits to CEO temporal leadership and corporate entrepreneurship over CEO early-action style.

Question 4. Could you share a bit about your own personal approach to pacing style and time urgency? You are adopting a dispositional view, where temporal orientations constitute stable personality traits that, like fingerprints, are unique to each individual. To what extent do you believe is it possible to learn a certain type of pacing style? Related to that, what advice would you give to junior scholars in how they can become better temporal leaders?

This is a very interesting question indeed! We are both very similar when it comes to time-urgency and pacing. We are both time-urgent and go back and forth in terms of pacing – closer to steady pacing style. We try to do our respective parts very fast and take each others’ feedback very seriously to continuously refine the work right up to the deadline. Based on prior research and our own experience of working with different co-authors, we think that it is a bit difficult, if not impossible, to learn a specific pacing style. Personally, it gets very uncomfortable and even stressful to wait till the deadline to do things or to act slowly. So at least from past experience, switching pacing styles from task to task is not very easy.

With the tenure clocks getting shorter and standards for tenure getting higher, the issue of time is very important for junior scholars. Many a times junior scholars work with co-authors who are at different stages of the career and have broader set of responsibilities beyond just research (e.g. administrative, executive education). All of us also have to balance work and family. Therefore, it is very important to proactively engage in time management to ensure that the papers move forward on time. For example, adding a co-author with a specific set of expertise may help move the paper forward quicker than facing the steep learning curve on trying to learn something new. Similarly, setting clear timelines at the beginning and reiterating or adjusting them regularly can go a long way in finishing papers in a timely manner. Conference deadlines are useful as entraining events to make significant progress on ongoing projects.  

Question 5. How did this paper evolve over time? Can you also share some insights on the review process that has led you to the final version? Are there any other aspects or analyses you would like to share which didn’t end up in the final paper?‬‬‬‬

This paper has evolved considerably and positively over the review process. We greatly appreciate the developmental role of our AE Prof. John Wagner and the three anonymous reviewers, all of who provided excellent suggestions and guided us closely at every stage. In addition to the paper becoming much stronger, this journey has been personally very satisfying and fruitful. We have both learned tremendously and hope to carry this experience in crafting our future projects. To give a concrete example, our original arguments for the linkage between CEO pacing style and temporal leadership were not very clear. The AE and reviewers identified very specific ways that we can achieve this. Their guiding markets were central in helping us integrate the micro temporal literature in psychology and the macro strategy literature to clearly articulate why CEO early action style and CEO steady action style are more beneficial for CEO temporal leadership than CEO deadline action style. Another example is Prof. Wagner’s suggestion to highlight the dispositional perspective on temporal orientation we introduce in this paper and how this dispositional perspective is different from the situational perspective salient in prior research on temporal orientation strategy. This distinction suggested by Prof. Wagner helped us better articulate the theoretical contribution of the paper. Overall, the AE and the reviewers played a pivotal role in shaping the final paper.



  1. […] 8. Chen & Nadkarni (2017). It’s about Time! CEOs’ Temporal Dispositions, Temporal Leadership, a… […]

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