Towards a Grainier Understanding of How to Encourage Morally Responsible Leadership Through the Development of Phronesis: A Typology of Managerial Phronesis

  • Francois Steyn
  • Kosheek SewchurranEmail author
Original Paper


Aristotle’s philosophical insights into ethics, wisdom and practice have drawn the attention of scholars. In the current professional context where ethics are often compromised, this debate assumes a necessary urgency. This subject is highly relevant to business schools, given the general neglect of this quality in executive management development. Our research involved an analysis of contemporary literature on phronesis in the management scholarship, practice and teaching domains. Our definition of phronesis identifies themes and paradoxes distilled from this literature. Stories are by nature multi-layered and paradoxical, embracing ambiguity and contradiction, so we incorporate narrative as essential to our enquiry. While it appears to be easily grasped, phronesis is complex, nuanced and paradoxical, seen as an unorganised set of characteristics in the management scholarship domain. We argue that the neglect of phronesis in modernity flows from the challenging nature of developing it, itself the consequence of its indistinctness. It calls for Einstein’s words “I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity”. This article argues that developing this virtue as a form of practical wisdom, should be an integral part of executive management development if we are to cultivate morally responsible leadership. A typology of managerial phronesis will encourage contextually appropriate leadership excellence based on the virtue-attributes of managers-as-scholars. The typology we propose is based on a Grounded Theory synthesis of relevant literature. We adopt a phenomenological stance. Through incorporating Grounded Theory second order themes, we offer a grainier understanding of the qualities of managerial phronesis.


Phronesis in executive leadership Developing phronesis Executive wisdom Phronetic social science Practical wisdom 


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Human and Animal Rights

This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.

Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human participants and no humans are involved in this article.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Graduate School of BusinessUniversity of Cape TownCape TownSouth Africa
  2. 2.RandburgSouth Africa

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