Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Leadership


Leadership is an elusive quality sought by many individuals and organizations. As organizations become more complex, the search for effective leadership intensifies. Presidents of universities and colleges were, historically, identified as the key leaders on campuses, in their own states, and nationally, able to raise institutions to greatness or drag them into mediocrity through the sheer force of their personality and efforts. More recent research suggests that college and university presidents have far less to do with the success of an institution than previously thought. Some presidents are somewhat successful by adapting their leadership frames through understanding the environment and culture of the institution they currently lead.

Researchers have suggested that leaders “frame” their understanding of the organizations they lead in four ways: structural, human resource, political, and symbolic. This study sought to determine if there were relationships to be found among presidents' backgrounds and career experience that would indicate a pattern of leadership frame(s) correlating to common backgrounds and careers. These data could then identify which backgrounds and career paths led to the type(s) of institutions a president would most likely lead. Demographic and career background data were collected and compared against data collected from the participants that identified their most common operational frame. The survey collected demographic data from the participants to strengthen validity. The survey instrument identified the participants' dominant personal frame(s) (a majority of leaders operate from at least two, and usually three frames), that they used to gather information, make decisions, and get things done. It also determined if there were relationships among presidents' backgrounds and career experience that would have indicated a pattern of leadership frames correlated with common backgrounds and careers.

The demographic data in this study closely mirrored national data from other recent studies. The largest number of presidents operated primarily from a symbolic frame. Almost 40% of all presidents operated from at least three of four frames when compared to others in the study. Previous career experience being a Student Services Vice-President was negatively related to selection as president of Doctoral/Research and Master's institutions. Previous career experience as a department Chair was positively related to selection as president of Doctoral/Research and Master's institutions and negatively related to selection as president of Associate and Other institutions.