Leadership, loss, and healing: A study of women community college leaders who left the presidency

Shaffer Lilienthal, Robin
Major Professor
Larry H. Ebbers
Committee Member
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Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

The purpose of this qualitative study was to extend research on female community college presidents by (a) describing and examining the experiences of women who have experienced difficult leadership positions that resulted in departures from community college presidencies; and (b) exploring how these women have made meaning from this experience. Three female community college presidents who had experienced a difficult leadership experience that resulted in leaving the presidency were interviewed to learn about how they viewed their leadership experiences, described what they had learned about leadership, explained about presidential relationships with governing boards, and constructed meaning as a result of leaving a presidency.

Using a constructivist framework and feminist methodology, the study data were first analyzed for each president and presented as an individual case study. Next the data were re-analyzed collectively to make interpretations about the shared experiences of all three presidents. The results of the study resulted in six themes. Leadership: (a) transformational-feminist leadership; Loss: (b) challenging situations with board members, (c) dealing with power struggles, (d) commitment to the college; and Healing: (e) spirituality and reflection, (f) continually creating meaning. In addition to describing six troublesome situations that presidents can face when dealing with governing boards and individual board members, the president's career-long leadership experiences, including some difficulties, suggested a style of leadership adapted from existing transformational and feminist leadership approaches. The Transformational-Feminist, with qualifiers, Leadership Model combines the two approaches and proposes limitations to the model's elements suggested by the emergent understanding that resulted from studying leaders who had difficult experiences.