A study of executive leadership in church-related higher education
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Many colleges and universities with historic relationships to religious organizations either have abandoned those relationships altogether or maintain the relationships in name only. Other church-related institutions remain deeply defined by their religious affiliation and require students and faculty to affirm certain creeds, practices and studies. Between these extremes, some institutions maintain a meaningful church relationship while embracing full academic freedom and building a faculty and student body that is richly diverse in every way. The leadership of the president may be critical to preserving the creative tension that allows the academy to prosper while drawing meaning from a church relationship. This study of executive leadership in church-related higher education sought to understand this form of leadership. The study joined conversations in the literature about leadership and about church-related higher education. The study utilized interactive qualitative analysis (Northcutt & McCoy, 2004) to identify nine elements in the system of executive leadership in church-related higher education. The study produced a theoretical model that allowed the researcher to describe the relationships that exist among the elements in the system, to explain the cause of existing conditions in the system, to predict the future results of actions on the system, and to discuss the impact of extrasystemic influences on the system. The study compared the different understandings of presidents, faculty members, and church leaders who serve as trustees. The results of the study indicated that primal leadership (Goleman, Boyatzis, & McKee, 2002) was the most relevant existing leadership theory for understanding the system described in this study. This study had primary value for persons who provide executive leadership in church-related higher education and for persons who select, evaluate, support and work with executive leaders in church-related higher education. This study had secondary value for persons who study executive leadership in all of higher education and for persons who study the interface between the general literature on leadership and specific understandings of leadership in higher education.