Date of Award

Fall 2012

Project Type


Program or Major


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

First Advisor

Sharon Nodie Oja


Leadership models for community college presidents are in a major transformation from traditional hierarchical, positional authority to participatory models of decision making. As leadership becomes more participatory, and educators experiment with more team and collaborative approaches to leadership, increased conflict is a likely outcome. Inclusiveness often brings diverse voices into decision making, and empowerment of a variety of individuals brings a shift in traditional power dynamics. Different interests may create conflict, and leaders will need to find ways to negotiate these differences in order to enhance creative adaptation of a community college to its changing environment.

This study explores the experiences and responses to conflict of a community college president using a field case study method and grounded theory approach. Interviews were conducted with the president over 10 months, triangulated with faculty and staff interviews, onsite observations, document analysis and the results of the Leadership Development Profile questionnaire which was developed by William Torbert to predict a leader's stage of social cognitive development (ego maturity).

The results of this study suggest that presidential responses to conflict negatively impacted the organization through habitual avoidance of conflict tensions including disengagement from important and clarifying discussions with the faculty and staff and retreat into bureaucratic routines that kept him separated from faculty interaction. In addition, the results of the Leadership Development Profile suggest a relationship between the president's experiences of conflict and his suggested stage of ego maturity which in turn influenced his choice of conflict responses.

The implications of this study are that conflict engagement choices of this president can best be understood (a) as part of the organizational and environmental context and the developmental capacity (ego maturity) of a leader, (b) problem solving and decision making through collaboration require leaders to continually learn on the job, (c) complex, ambiguous problems may require conflict as a catalyst to surface and challenge assumptions that hinder the search for novel solutions.