Heather Cairns-Lee

Affiliate Professor of Leadership

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Heather Cairns-Lee is Affiliate Professor of Leadership. Her work involves the design and delivery of executive learning, research into leadership and organizational development, group facilitation, and executive coaching.

Cairns-Lee successfully directed IMD’s partnership program business and led the Learning Network of 140 companies through its early stages of digitization. She has contributed to the design and delivery of IMD’s flagship leadership programs including the MBA leadership stream, Strategies for Leadership for women leaders and Mobilizing People as well as numerous partnership programs including ABB, Adecco, BASF, Generali, Swisscom and UEFA. Heather has also run deep dive and mega dive processes with management teams to enhance strategic direction.

A highly experienced leadership development professional, she has also designed and run programs for senior executives and management teams at top European and US business schools and for many international organizations.

Cairns-Lee’s research focuses on the development of self-awareness, authenticity and sensemaking and the role of metaphor in break-through thinking and creativity. Her 2017 PhD thesis on how leaders make meaning through metaphor won the University of Surrey Researcher of the Year Award and the prestigious Emerald/EFMD Award for Outstanding Doctoral Research for Leadership and Organizational development. Her research and program designs have also won awards for innovation and impact, and she is currently publishing in academic journals and books.

Her early career work supported the setting of industry standards in management education through contributing to EFMD’s introduction of EQUIS and through the initiation of UNICON’s Research and Benchmarking Committees.

Academic publications
Clean language interviewing: Principles and applications for researchers and practitioners
Combining academic rigour with real application examples, a global range of contributors analyse the use of Clean Language Interviewing in multiple settings including business, education, and healt...
Published 20 July 2022
Enhancing researcher reflexivity about the influence of leading questions in interviews
Interviewing is the most frequently used qualitative research method for gathering data. Although interviews vary across different epistemological perspectives, questions are central to all intervi...
Published 1 March 2022
Insight for Executives
A pipeline of women leaders is needed across all career stages
A pipeline of women leaders is needed across all career stages
Society must take action to change gender norms and encourage more girls to study STEM subjects if we are to improve the pipeline of women tech talent and leaders said Heather Cairns-Lee, Adjunct P...
Published 26 April 2022
Dismantling the maternal wall brick by brick
The pervasive stereotype of women as caregivers creates a “maternal wall” in the workplace – a bias based on the belief that women with children and caregiving responsibilities are less committed t...
Published 8 March 2022
How can we better include people with disability in the workplace? Five questions to ask yourself 
One of the biases that is deeply ingrained in society is that of ableism – the assumption that people with disabilities are somehow inferior to the non-disabled. Ableism encompasses individual ster...
Published 16 February 2022
Escape shackles of a fixed mindset to fuel growth
The way leaders frame their challenges influences the way they think, feel, take action and interact with others. Those with fixed mindsets tend to believe that intelligence and ability are fixed a...
Published 7 July 2021
The inner world of leaders: Why leadership metaphors matter
Much leadership development is delivered using strategic frameworks and competency models that specify the knowledge and skills desired of an effective leader. These all take an external perspectiv...
Published 1 October 2013