Skip to main content

Boardthink: Exploring the discourses and mind-sets of directors

  • Brigid Carroll (a1), Coral Ingley (a2) and Kerr Inkson (a3)

In a context of institutionalized regulation and academic framing determined by agency theory, we note paradoxes in board governance literature and practice. These paradoxes concern boards’ conflicting roles of monitoring/control, and innovation/strategy-making. We explore directors’ mind-sets about governance on which their resolution of paradoxes and their decisions and actions will be based. We do this by applying discourse analysis to the transcripts of 60 semistructured interviews conducted with New Zealand directors who described and evaluated their experience of board governance. We identify and discuss their various discourses, which we label discourses of conformance, of deliberation, of enterprise and of bounded innovation. We note the homogeneity of discourses across different organization types, the dominance of conformance, the nonresolution of paradoxes, and the likely effects in inhibiting board strategy-making and contribution to innovation. We recommend attention by boards to their mind-sets and processes, and the development of generativity.

Corresponding author
Corresponding author:
Hide All

This paper is an original work that has not been submitted or published elsewhere. All the authors have read and approved this material and have met the journal’s criteria for authorship.

Hide All
Alvesson, M., & Kärreman, D. (2007). Constructing mystery: Empirical matters in theory development. Academy of Management Review, 32, 12651281.
Alvesson, M., & Kärreman, D. (2011). Decolonializing discourse: Critical reflections on organizational discourse analysis. Human Relations, 64, 11211146.
Aubert, B. A., Kishore, R., & Iriyama, A. (2015). Exploring and managing the ‘innovation through outsourcing’ paradox. The Journal of Strategic Information Systems, 24, 255269.
Blackburn, S. (1998). Ruling passions: A theory of practical reasoning. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Brennan, N. M., & Kirwan, C. E. (2015). Audit committees: Practices, practitioners and praxis of governance. Accounting, Auditing & Accountability Journal, 28, 466493.
Carmeli, A., Jones, C. D., & Binyamin, G. (2015). The power of caring and generativity in building strategic adaptability. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 89, 4672.
Carroll, B., & Levy, L. (2008). Defaulting to management: Leadership defined by what it is not. Organization, 15(1), 7596.
Chait, R. P., Ryan, W. P., & Taylor, B. E. (2004). Governance as leadership: Reframing the work of nonprofit boards. Hoboken, New Jersey: Wiley.
Chambers, N., & Cornforth, C. (2010). The role of corporate governance and boards in organisational performance. In K. Walshe, G. Harvey, & P. Jas (Eds.), Connecting knowledge and performance in public services. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Clarke, T. (2007). International corporate governance: A comparative approach. London: Routledge.
Dalton, C. (2007). Queen bees: All sting, no honey. Business Horizons, 50, 33493352.
Donaldson, T., & Preston, L. E. (1995). The stakeholder theory of the corporation: Concepts, evidence, and implications. Academy of Management Review, 20, 6591.
Fama, E. F., & Jensen, M. (1983). Separation of ownership and control. The Journal of Law and Economics, 26, 301325.
Filatotchev, I., & Nakajima, C. (2014). Corporate governance, responsible managerial behavior, and corporate social responsibility: Organizational efficiency versus organizational legitimacy? Academy of Management Perspectives, 28, 289306.
Finkelstein, S., & Hambrick, D. C. (1996). Strategic leadership: Top executives and their effects on organizations. St. Paul, MN: South-Western.
Garratt, B. (2007). Directors and their homework: Developing strategic thought. International Journal of Business Governance and Ethics, 3, 150162.
Gollwitzer, P. M., Heckhausen, H., & Steller, B. (1990). Deliberative and implemental mind-sets: Cognitive tuning towards congruous thoughts and information. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 59, 11191127.
Hartel, C. E. J. (2014). Advancing organizational behavior through context considerations. Journal of Management and Organization, 20, 415416.
Hendry, K., & Kiel, G. C. (2004). The role of the board in firm strategy: Integrating agency and organisational control perspectives. Corporate Governance, 12, 500520.
Higgs, C. (2003). Review of the role and effectiveness of non-executive directors. London: Department of Trade and Industry. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from
Hillman, A. J., & Dalziel, T. (2003). Boards of directors and firm performance: Integrating agency and resource dependence perspectives. Academy of Management Review, 28, 383396.
Institute of Directors in New Zealand (2012). Four pillars of governance best practice. Wellington: Institute of Directors in New Zealand.
Janis, I. L. (1982). Groupthink. Psychological studies of policy decisions and fiascoes. Boston, MA: Wadsworth.
Johns, G. (2006). The essential impact of context on organizational behavior. Academy of Management Review, 31, 386408.
Kerr, J. L., & Werther, E. B. (2008). The next frontier in corporate governance: Engaging the board in strategy. Organizational Dynamics, 37, 112124.
Kiel, G., & Nicholson, G. (2003). Boards that work: A new guide for directors. Sydney: McGraw-Hill.
Lane, P. J., Cannella, A. A., & Lubatkin, M. H. (1998). Agency problems as antecedents to unrelated mergers and diversification: Amihud and Lev reconsidered. Strategic Management Journal, 19, 555578.
Lemke, J. L. (1995). Textual politics: Discourse and social dynamics. London: Taylor & Francis.
Marshak, R. J., & Grant, D. (2008). Organizational discourse and new organization development practices. British Journal of Management, 19(S1), S7S19.
McKinsey & Company (2013). Improving board governance: McKinsey Global Survey results. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from
McNulty, T., Zattoni, A., & Douglas, T. (2013). Developing corporate governance research through qualitative methods: A review of previous studies. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 21, 183198.
Mumby, D. K. (2011). What’s cooking in organizational discourse studies? A response to Alvesson and Kärreman. Human Relations, 64, 11471161.
Newton, T., Deetz, S., & Reed, M. (2011). Responses to social constructionism and critical realism in organization studies. Organization Studies, 32, 726.
OECD (2004). Using the OECD principles of corporate governance: A boardroom perspective. Paris: OECD. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from
Page, M., & Spira, L. (2016). Corporate governance as custodianship of the business model. Journal of Management and Governance, 20, 213228.
Pugliese, A., Nicholson, G., & Bezemer, P.-J. (2015). An observational analysis of the impact of board dynamics and directors participation on perceived board effectiveness. British Journal of Management, 26, 125.
Pye, A. (2002). The changing power of ‘explanations’: Directors, academics and their sensemaking from 1989 to 2000. Journal of Management Studies, 39, 907925.
Solomon, J. (2013). Corporate governance and accountability. 4th ed, London: John Wiley & Sons.
Soltwisch, B. W. (2015). The paradox of organizational rigidity: A contingency model for information processing during times of opportunity and threat. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 22, 395403.
Stein, J. (2011). Engaging with strategy after the financial crisis. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from
Sundaramurthy, C., & Lewis, M. (2003). Control and collaboration: Paradoxes of governance. Academy of Management Review, 28, 397415.
Tahir, R. (2017). Women on corporate boards: The New Zealand perspective. In R. Bentarni, & M. Sparer (Eds.), Leadership, innovation and entrepreneurship as driving forces of the global economy (pp. 473483). Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.
Tricker, B. (2008). Corporate governance – convergence? Paper for the Chartered Secretaries International Conference, Shanghai, China. Retrieved April 4, 2017, from
Van der Walt, N., & Ingley, C. (2003). Board dynamics and the influence of professional background, gender and ethnic diversity of directors. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 11, 218234.
Westphal, J. D. (1999). Collaboration in the boardroom: Behavioral and performance consequences of CEO-board social ties. Academy of Management Journal, 42, 724.
Westphal, J. D., & Zajac, E. J. (2013). A behavioral theory of corporate governance: Explicating the mechanisms of socially situated and socially constituted agency. The Academy of Management Annals, 7, 607661.
Zattoni, A., Douglas, T., & Judge, W. (2013). Developing corporate governance theory through qualitative research. Corporate Governance: An International Review, 21, 119122.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Journal of Management & Organization
  • ISSN: 1833-3672
  • EISSN: 1839-3527
  • URL: /core/journals/journal-of-management-and-organization
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *



Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed