About The Research

Between 2006 and 2010, we conducted a two-part research study that validated the Secure Base Leadership theory and reinforced our conviction about its value in organizations.

Prior to our formal research, all three authors had personal experience that led us to a number of practical and real world insights. We have a combined 60 years of working with the concepts of what we now term Secure Base Leadership. Much of that experience came from teaching and working with thousands of executives around the world across industries. We knew from direct experience with senior executives that the material works.” In our formal feedback process at the end of our programs and in our follow-up programs, we heard success story after success story. However, while this anecdotal evidence inspired us, we wanted something more definitive in order to structure the Secure Base Leadership concept. We therefore embarked on a multi-year research journey that involved numerous members of our team around the world. It crystalized in the form of Duncan Coombe’s PhD in Organizational Behavior from Case Western Reserve University, which houses one of the world’s leading Organizational Behavior departments.

The research included two main studies: an initial qualitative study to develop the characteristics of Secure Base Leadership, and then a large-scale quantitative study to measure its impact on important organizational outcomes.

Study One: Development of the Characteristics

Description: An inductive, qualitative research study aimed at identifying the dimensions of Secure Base Leadership.
Objective: bring greater insight into the behaviors and characteristics associated with Secure Base Leadership within the organizational context.
Participants:  50 organizational leaders identified by our research team.

  • predominantly from Europe, the USA and Asia
  • average age: 48
  • 70% male and 30% female

These individuals were chosen by the research team as representative of real-world high performing leaders we encounter in our daily work. In order to ensure maximum resonance with our target audience, we purposefully did not want the bulk of our interviewees to be famous CEOs. 

Interview Process: The team conducted the interviews following a semi-structured interview protocol. An important part of the interviews was therefore the series of additional explorative sub-questions asked in response to answers. Those sub-questions allowed us to obtain depth and richness of data. These questions were focused on language, phrases, actions, stories, applications, and insights.

Interviews were recorded and subsequently transcribed. The focus was on stories of Secure Bases and Secure Base Leadership that illuminated our enquiry.

Questions included: 

  • Who were the people in your childhood and youth that helped you the most—who built your self-confidence and encouraged you to explore, create, and achieve?
  • Can you tell me a story about a specific time or moment when one of these individuals’ influence was particularly significant? What did they say? What did they do? What did you learn?
  • Apart from parents and immediate family members, who were some of the other people who were most influential when you were growing up?
  • Can you tell me a story about a specific time or moment when one of these individuals’ influence was particularly significant? What did they say? What did they do? What did you learn?
  • Who were the people who have been most influential and helpful to you as an adult, and as a leader? Why? How?
  • Can you tell me a story about a specific time or moment when one of these individuals’ influence was particularly significant? What did they say? What did they do? What did you learn?
  • Please tell me about a time of failure, loss, or crisis. Who did you turn to and why? What did he or she say or do that was helpful at that time?
  • Please tell me about a time when you, as a leader, helped another person. Where did you help build someone’s self-confidence and encourage them to explore, create or achieve? What did you say and do? What was his or her response?

Analysis:

The interviews were analyzed in a rigorous multi-step process according to a Grounded Theory approach based on the work of researchers Glaser and Strauss.

First, ten of the interviews were read multiple times. This step allowed the researchers to become immersed in the data and create first order codes. During the reading of the interviews, notes were recorded around specific behaviors and actions. In this initial reading of the interviews, 37 first order behaviors were recorded. These 37 first order behaviors were then sorted to create second order groupings of behaviors. Examples of these second order groupings were:

  • Inquiry and Listening
  • Acceptance of the person
  • Positive mindset

The interviews were then re-read to check the validity of these groupings to ensure that all behaviors described in the interviews could be grouped into these categories.

The second order groupings were then described more fully. A description of each was developed and accompanying sample evidence was collected. This information was then shared with three co-researchers verbally and in writing. The co-researchers then read the interviews with the intention of performing an inter-rater reliability analysis. Two of the co-researchers read all 50 interviews and one of the co-researchers read 5 of the interviews. Through this process, the groupings were qualitatively confirmed as being representative. Following this process, the characteristics of Secure Base Leadership as described in Care to Dare were established.

Study Two: Testing the Characteristics

Having established the characteristics of Secure Base Leadership, the research team then wanted to know whether they could be used to predict elements of organizational performance. In other words: does Secure Base Leadership have a positive relationship to organizational outcomes?

Description: A deductive, quantitative research study aimed at examining the relationship between Secure Base Leadership and other organizational outcome variables

Objective: show that a leader displaying the characteristics of Secure Base Leadership will produce beneficial leadership outcomes.

Participants:  attendees of selected executive education programs at IMD.

Participants were identified through an online survey administered in advance of the leadership program as part of their preparatory work. In addition to participating themselves, they were asked to invite their direct reports and their manager to participate in the study.
Therefore, there were three separate groups of participants:

  • Leaders (participants on the leadership program)
  • Followers (direct reports of the Leaders)
  • Managers (the managers of the Leaders).

We conducted the research over multiple programs, piloting and refining our approach to recruiting survey participants.

Over the course of our research, we surveyed almost 1000 people. The leaders themselves were overwhelmingly male (85%) which is a sad reflection of the demographics of senior leaders in large multinational organizations. There was a higher proportion of female “followers” (30%), again a typical reflection of the demographics of large multinational organizations.

Survey Design:

As a first step we created an instrument that would measure the characteristics of Secure Base Leadership. This was based on the findings, words and phrases of the previous study and was refined through a series of pilot studies. The aggregated measure of Secure Base Leadership was the independent variable in the study.

As a second step, we tested whether Secure Base Leadership has a positive relationship to other existing and well-established organizational variables. We chose three primary dependent variables for this study:

  • A measure of Leader Effectiveness (measuring the extent to which the leader was perceived to be effective as a leader by his manager and direct reports)
  • A measure of Job Satisfaction (measuring the job satisfaction of the direct reports)
  • A measure of Psychological Safety (measuring the extent to which direct reports felt that it was safe to try new things, make mistakes, and share their opinions)

Analysis:
Analysis involved a number of different quantitative methods that extended from basic correlations and regression analyses to more advanced structural equation modeling. It is beyond the scope of this research summary to restate the complexity of our findings.

Results:
Through this analysis, we discovered a positive relationship between the characteristics of Secure Base leadership and the outcome variables of Leadership Effectiveness, Job Satisfaction and Psychological Safety. The behaviors of Secure Base Leadership contribute to these three outcomes.

Clearly, Secure Base Leadership is not the only input into these three outcomes . However, our research makes a compelling case that if a leader consistently displays the characteristics of Secure Base Leadership, he or she will be more likely to achieve these outcomes.

Conclusion:
Our direct experience of working with executives in real situations and our anecdotal evidence of the success of Secure Base Leadership was supported by our research. The studies described in this overview provided an initial rich description of the characteristics of Secure Base Leadership as well as the evidence to support their positive impact on important outcomes such as leader effectiveness and job satisfaction.

  • Reasons to Buy

    • Contains practical application steps you can take to become a Secure Base Leader
    • Packed with stories showing examples of Secure Base Leadership from all areas of life
    • Shares ways to develop the nine characteristics of Secure Base Leaders
    • Includes suggestions for improving your leadership skills at individual, team and organizational levels
    • Chapters have Key Learning Points, Tips and FAQs to aid understanding and application
    • Material drawn from both research and practical experience with thousands of executives across the world
    • Recommended by renowned leadership authors such as Daniel Goleman, Marshall Goldsmith, Tom Peters, David Rock, Bill George & Warren Bennis

    Purchase a copy now

  • Testimonials

    I wondered if George Kohlreiser could create a worthy sequel to his masterful Hostage at the Table. Well, he, Susan and Duncan have, and then some! I love the concept of Secure Base Leadership. Genius in its simplicity, this book shows us that the Secure Base Leader provides a combination of safety and risk that creates the only possible means to success at innovation. Innovate or die’ is the seminal characteristic of today’s environment; Care to Dare is the key.
    Tom Peters, co-author, In SearchExcellence
  • Reasons to Buy

    • Contains practical application steps you can take to become a Secure Base Leader
    • Packed with stories showing examples of Secure Base Leadership from all areas of life
    • Shares ways to develop the nine characteristics of Secure Base Leaders
    • Includes suggestions for improving your leadership skills at individual, team and organizational levels
    • Chapters have Key Learning Points, Tips and FAQs to aid understanding and application
    • Material drawn from both research and practical experience with thousands of executives across the world
    • Recommended by renowned leadership authors such as Daniel Goleman, Marshall Goldsmith, Tom Peters, David Rock, Bill George & Warren Bennis

    Purchase a copy now

  • About the Authors

    The co-authors of Care to Dare have worked closely together for a number of years. Find out more about each of them.

    About the Authors

  • Download Free Sample

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