What Can We Learn From the Woman On Top? The Life-history Approach to the Analysis of Leader Self-efficacy Development in Exceptional Female Leader – the Case of Xerox’s CEO Ursula Burns

Magdalena Wloszek

Student thesis: Master thesis


The following thesis utilizes the qualitative, life-history approach in order to analyze and understand the life-span process of leader self-efficacy development on the example of high-profile business leader – Xerox’s CEO Ursula Burns. The problem of practice addressed by the study is the fact that, despite the increased spending on leadership development programs for women and introduction of diversity programs and anti-discriminatory policies at the workplaces, the number of women at top leadership position has hardly changed over the recent years. The theory of leader self –efficacy (perceiving oneself as a leader) offers a compelling and potent solution to such problem, as it addresses the fact that women do not see themselves as leaders. Thus, increasing leader-self efficacy in women should result in more women taking on the position of authority as it would equipped them with major internal factor of success – namely, the high leader self-efficacy. Additionally, women in general exhibit lower levels of leader self-efficacy than men, and it has been suggested by a large body of research that it might be caused by the different socialization process that men and women undergoes, thus the life-history approach allows this fact to be accounted for. The life-span analysis of leader self-efficacy development of Ursula Burns confirms the Bandura’s self-efficacy model as Burns was exposed to all of the four efficacy information throughout her life (mastery experience, social modeling, verbal persuasion, positive psychological states). However, social modeling and verbal persuasion that she received from her mother since she was a child, seems to be the most influential source of personal efficacy, esteem, confidence and resilience that facilitated her leadership development. The analysis and discussion also revealed that women’s development of leader self-efficacy may be inhibited by the lack of “psychological preparedness” that may stem from previous life experiences and influences that women was exposed to. Thus, in order to make leadership development programs more effective for women and to ensure that women will in fact increase their sense of leader self-efficacy it is first crucial to make sure that women possess adequate psychological capabilities ( in a form of e.g. high self-esteem, adequate success attribution) to take advantage of such programs or other opportunities. Furthermore, the thesis contributes to the field of leader self-efficacy development for women by approaching the subject form novel, life-history perspective.

EducationsMSc in Strategy, Organization and Leadership, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2016
Number of pages88