Date of Award

Spring 6-11-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Education


College of Education, Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Donna Kiel

Second Advisor

Thomas Noel

Third Advisor

Jo Hawkins-Jones


Leadership is the key determinant in the success of any organization, and leaders have an immeasurable impact on the lives and performances of those they have been entrusted to develop, support and lead. School principals are an integral part of the leadership tapestry within society and many people have been impacted by a school principal. Often enough, there are individuals who lead with or behind their title versus understanding first who they are intrinsically, and then working through those dynamics to effectively lead their own lives. When leaders are able to do this, then and only then are they equipped and qualified to assist others in effectively and ethically developing their lives. When leaders display negative and unethical interpersonal characteristics, it impacts the people within an organization. Minimal research has been conducted on how leaders, specifically school leaders’ formative years have influenced who they have become as self-leaders and consequently leaders within their organization. The purpose of this qualitative phenomenological study was to examine how a leader's life experiences and self-knowledge influenced them as self-leaders in the areas of emotional intelligence, ethical decision making and therefore leaders in their school community. Interviews and a workshop were conducted with five school principals working in public elementary schools in the Midwest. This study used two frameworks, emotional intelligent competency, and ethical management. This research was guided by the following questions: 1) How does a leader’s formative years influence self-identity and leadership of others? and 2) How does training in building of emotional intelligence and ethical management positively impact self-reported efficacy of leaders? Themes emerged from the interviews and workshop data describing the lived experiences of these participants. The themes were: 1) parental influence, 2) faith, 3) self-reflection connected to leadership, 4) mental exhaustion, 5) compromised ethics and 6) better equipped with prior knowledge. Findings suggested one’s formative years, specifically parental influence had a significant impact on adults’ emotional competence and leadership ability, and pressure from school leaders’ bosses – district office was a key factor in compromising their ethics. Also, participants believed coursework during their principal preparation program or extensive workshops as novice leaders, in self-identity, emotional competencies and ethical management would have better prepared them to lead others.