Heather Cairns Lee

Heather Cairns-Lee

Visiting Fellow
BA, MSc, PhD


I am a Visiting Fellow in the Surrey Business School.

My research focuses on leadership development and specifically how leaders make meaning through their mental models and metaphors. This research continues from my PhD, (University of Surrey) focused on how leaders develop self-awareness through attention to their naturally occurring metaphors. Thesis title: An exploration of leadership and its development through the inner worlds of leaders using metaphor. This research was prompted by 25 years working in leadership development with international executives and sought to understand how leaders can develop their own authentic ways of leading.

I combine academic research with practice as a leadership development professional and executive coach and I work extensively with organisations internationally.

In addition to my PhD, I have a BA in International Politics and Law from the University of East Anglia, an MSc. from the University of Lancaster in International Human Resource Development, a Masters in Coaching certified by the International Coaching Federation and I am a certified Clean Language facilitator.

Research Interests

  • Leadership development especially at the intra-personal level of how leaders make meaning
  • Metaphor and mental models
  • Clean Language as a research methodology


  • Swiss Representative OPUS (Organisation for Promoting Understanding of Society)
  • Vice President of Business Professional Women (BPW) Lake Geneva
  • Founding Member of UNICON Research Committee.
  • Founding Chair of the UNICON Benchmarking Committee

Conference papers

  • Ward, C, Tosey, P, Cairns-Lee, H. (2013) ‘A Strange Route to Get Here: Metaphors of Leadership Development and Leadership’. Brighton, UK: UKFHRD
  • Cairns-Lee, H. (2013) ‘A Journey to Inner Space: Exploring Leadership From Within’. Brighton, UK: UKFHRD
  • Cairns-Lee, H. (2014) ‘Stepping Up, Stepping Back - Metaphors of Leadership’. Edinburgh, UK: UKFHRD