How to Do Things with Words: The Discursive Dimension of Experiential Learning ??How to Do Things...

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  • How to Do Things with Words: The DiscursiveDimension of Experiential Learning inEntrepreneurial Mentoring Dyadsby Miruna Radu Lefebvre and Renaud Redien-Collot

    The purpose of this article is to assess the mentoring impact in an experiential learningentrepreneurship program. We did three-year participant observation in the major business schoolincubator of the Paris area with the aim to identify the interpersonal communicational strategiesthat mentors, which are confirmed entrepreneurs, use in order to influence nascent entrepreneursattitudes and behaviors in dyadic interaction. These communicational strategies are categorizedas persuasion, engagement, criticism, and provocation. An additional two-year field researchallowed us to assess the impact of these communicational strategies at the individual (commit-ment, compliance, resistance) and the enterprise levels (business launching and fund-raising).

    IntroductionSaying something will often, or even nor-

    mally, produce certain consequential effectsupon the feelings, thoughts or actions of otherpersons: and it may be done with the design,intention or purpose of producing them . . .(Austin 1962, p. 101).

    The seminal work of Austin (1962) putforward a theory of interpersonal communica-tion as a specific form of human action, withaction characterized as intentional behavior(von Wright 1971: 8386). Because intention iswhat gives behavior a purpose and directs ittowards an end, communicative practicesemerge and organize as strategic intention-based behaviors of language-in-use (Allwood1977). Entrepreneurial mentoring dyads encom-

    pass particular patterns of relationships amongindividuals that initiate and monitor togethergenuinely purposive communicative practices(Cavendish 2007; Jablin 2001). These communi-cative practices are realized through a range ofdiscourse-based influence tactics, in a particularmission-driven institutional context (Kalbfleisch2002). Our main premise is that securing andimproving the start-up processes thus requirematching mentoring communicational strategieswith business support objectives and situations.This is the first attempt to assess the impact ofcommunicational strategies in an entrepreneur-ial mentoring French context.

    For the last twenty years, public and privateresources were invested in entrepreneurshipeducational and support programs, with con-firmed entrepreneurs enrolled in purposeful

    Miruna Radu Lefebvre is Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship at Audencia, France (AUDENCIA PRESLUNAM). She published qualitative and quantitative research on persuasive communication and entrepre-neurship. Her main focus of interest is communication as strategical behavior.

    Renaud Redien-Collot is Professor of Entrepreneurship and Head of the International Relations Depart-ment at Novancia, France. His main publications are dedicated to gender and leadership, minority entrepre-neurship, entrepreneurship education, and intrapreneurial innovation.

    Address correspondence to: Miruna Radu Lefebvre, Audencia, 8 route de la JonelireB.P. 31222, Nantes44312, France. E-mail:

    Journal of Small Business Management 2013 51(3), pp. 370393

    doi: 10.1111/jsbm.12022


  • interpersonal relationships aiming to guide andcounsel nascent entrepreneurs1 through appro-priate diagnosis and advice, so as to fosterbusiness launching and development (Hackettand Dilts 2004; McAdam and Marlow 2007).Evidence exists that mentoring interventions atthe start-up level is beneficial to the survivaland growth of young enterprises (Deakins et al.1998; Sullivan 2000), through increasing self-confidence, managerial skills (St-Jean andAudet 2010; Wikholm et al. 2005) as well asthe ability to act as an entrepreneur (Kent,Dennis, and Tanton 2003). Mentoring has fre-quently been acknowledged as a primary modeof knowledge transmission and acquisition(Fielden and Hunt 2011; Johnson 2002;Merriam and Mohamad 2000), with mentorssupporting transformative experiential learning(Lee 2007: 334).

    According to Kolb (1984), individuals learnthrough concrete experience, reflective obser-vation, abstract conceptualization, and activeexperimentation, with experiential learningcharacterized as knowledge that results fromthe combination of grasping and transform-ing experience. Entrepreneurship educationemploys experiential learning mainly as ameans to develop decision-making and criticalthinking skills, through involving students indirect experience with launching venture star-tups, elaborating business plans, and meetingwith confirmed entrepreneurs (Solomon, Duffy,and Tarabishy 2002). Corbett (2005) andCooper, Bottomley, and Gordon (2004) contrastlearning by doing with classroom learning, thefirst being emphasized as a major tool of expe-riential learning. According to them, learningby doing allows students to explore and chal-lenge the limits of their knowledge, beliefs andrepresentations, and therefore develop theirability to identify new and original solutionswhile also engaging them to explore what isunknown. Gosen and Washbush (2004)stressed that, during the last 20 years, experi-ential learning was implemented all over theworld as a postmodern fantasy, that is, aRousseauist invitation for students to return tonature and their genuine cleverness.However, the authors noticed that the expectedbenefits of learning by doing can be generatedonly if efforts are made to build a constant and

    authentic dialogue between the community ofeducators and that of students. In the samevein, Cybinski and Selvanathan (2005, p. 253)observed that experiential learning calls intoattention the role of social interaction as ameans to develop self-reflection and self-awareness in students. According to Kalbfleisch(2002, p. 63), communication is central to theinitiation, maintenance, and repair of mentor-ing relationships. Still, little is known aboutthe communicational strategies that mentorsuse in order to trigger change in individualsand enterprises (Chun, Sosik, and Yi Yun 2012;Kombakaran et al. 2008; Perren 2003).

    Mentoring may be conceptualized as adyadic communication relationship (Hill,Bahniuk, and Dobos 1989, p. 15) consisting inverbal (and nonverbal) behaviors intended toprovide or seek help (Burleson andMacGeorge 2002, p. 384). When engaged indyadic mentoring communication, mentorselaborate and convey supportive messagesdepicted as specific lines of communicativebehavior enacted by one party with the intentof benefiting or helping another (ibid., p. 386).In this perspective, mentors need to continu-ously adjust their communications to meet theneeds of their protgs, which demands adeep understanding of their own communica-tion styles and a willingness to objectivelyobserve the behavior of the mentee (Rowley1999). Evidence exists that interpersonal men-toring communication plays a key role in trig-gering professional success and personaldevelopment in protgs (Kalbfleisch andDavies 1993; Wrench and Punyanunt-Carter2005). Communication and mentoring scholarsare therefore increasingly committed in study-ing mentoring communication in terms ofmessage creation, transmission, and impact(Burleson and Samter 1985; Cavendish 2007;Goldsmith and MacGeorge 2000). However,little research is explicitly dedicated to thestudy of mentoring communicative actionsemphasized as strategic and goal-focused(Jablin 2001) as well as context-specific behav-iors (Hunt and Michael 1983). The communica-tional outcomes of mentoring relationshipsneed yet to be empirically assessed both atindividual and enterprise levels (Cavendish2007).

    1A nascent entrepreneur is defined as an individual who is in the process of starting a business, hascommitted resources to do it and expects to own at least part of it (Langowitz and Minniti 2007, p. 346).


  • Between 2005 and 2010, we conducted atwo-stage longitudinal field research in themajor business school incubator of the Parisarea, France. We studied 50 mentoring dyads ofconfirmed entrepreneurs and student entrepre-neurs participating to an experiential learningprogram aiming to develop both entrepreneur-ial skills and self-reflection, and to secure busi-ness launching and fund-raising. During thefirst research phase (20052008), we did quali-tative research with participant observation andsemi-structured interviews in order to identifythe communicational strategies most frequentlyemployed by mentors in counselling interac-tions. The results indicate that mentors use fourmain communicational strategies in order toinfluence nascent entrepreneurs behavior indyadic relationships: persuasion, engagement,criticism, and provocation. This taxonomy ofcommunicational strategies put emphasis onthe intended effects of mentors targetingstudent entrepreneurs. During the secondresearch phase (20082010), we did quantita-tive research with self-administrated question-naires to measure the achieved effects of thementors communicational strategies at indi-vidual (commitment, compliance, resistance)and enterprise levels (business launching andfund-raising).2 The results indicate that engage-ment significantly impacts business launching,whereas provocation accounts for a significantpart of variance in fund-raising. Moderatingvariables, such as gender, trust, and personalinvolvement, mediate the impact of communi-cational strategies. This research has both theo-retical and practical implications for measuringthe impact of entrepreneurial support onstudent entrepreneurs.

    The business school incubator weresearched is one of the five biggest incubatorsin France. It is a business school incubator thatoffers a six-month support program designed toincrease the number of start-ups in the region,as well as to contribute to their early-phase

    development. Several experie