Date of Award

Winter 11-10-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctorate of Philosophy (PhD) in Education


College of Education, Doctoral Program

First Advisor

Barbara Rieckhoff

Second Advisor

Rebecca Michel

Third Advisor

Thomas Noel


In a global society steeped in increasingly complex environments, immediate modes of communication, flexible work arrangements, rapid advances in technology, and greater competition, the need for sound leadership has never been more important. Progressive, innovative, stronger leaders have the potential to provide organizations with a competitive advantage. A plethora of contemporary leadership frameworks exist, included among them situational leadership, transformational leadership, authentic leadership, relational leadership, and servant leadership. Each framework has its own unique set of characteristics which are embraced by the leaders who identify with them. This qualitative study used narrative inquiry through a postmodern lens to investigate the attributes of servant leadership, such as egalitarianism, empowering others, and demonstrating a strong emphasis on stewardship, to understand the lived experiences of higher education administrative leaders who demonstrate these characteristics. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with eight leaders at four universities in the Midwest. Findings revealed how leaders used common values as a compass to guide their decision-making. They shared a sense of spirituality, whether secular or non-secular, and it provided meaning to their work. Relationship development was at the heart of their success, and they exhibited a pragmatic approach to lead and support teams to achieve their goals. This research provides higher education institutions and leadership scholars with information on how to enhance a more nurturing and supportive environment for servant leaders. With a better understanding of servant leaders’ lived experiences, higher education administrators will have greater insight into how to attract, retain, and enhance environments where they could thrive.