Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Leadership, Research and Technology

First Advisor

Jianping Shen, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Louann Bierlein Palmer, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

George Brown, Ph.D.


Arts in leadership, creative leadership, creative writers


Connections between creativity and leadership often focus on how fostering creativity can help an organization. Despite the value that creativity can bring to organizations, Mueller et al. (2011) found that creative people themselves are not seen as leadership material. Yet many people with creative backgrounds do take on leadership roles, particularly in higher education.

This qualitative study explores the experiences of higher education leaders who have a background in creative writing and how those leaders perceive the interaction of the leadership role with their creative experience. The sample included 12 mid-level leaders in higher education who had an MFA or Ph.D. in creative writing and at least one creative publication. Data from the semi-structured interviews were analyzed using coding methods to develop themes and subthemes that reflected patterns in the experiences and perceptions of the leaders. The analysis led to seven themes and an additional 13 subthemes illustrating the influence of creative writing on leadership in terms of how participants conceive of leadership, how they understand their identities as a leader and a creative person, and the overlap of skills in the two areas.

The themes reveal that participants utilize aspects of Creative Leadership in their own work. Specifically, they view leadership as collaborative, open, and people-focused. They take a broad perspective on situations, and often navigate multiple realms both in their leadership roles and in other aspects of their lives. These leaders recognize that they integrate creativity in their identity and in their actions as leaders, even when their creative genre or outlet shifted. These leaders distinguish themselves from other leaders, and they experience negative stereotypes from those outside of creative fields. Lastly, these leaders are able to describe skills from their creative writing training and history, particularly analytical skills, that transfer to leadership roles.

Overall, this study found that creative writers experience leadership as an open and collaborative process that draws from their creative writing talents. In their leadership they made use of the problem-solving abilities and perspective they developed from creating works of art. These skills and ways of perceiving leadership bring a unique value to the leaders and to institutions of higher education.

Access Setting

Dissertation-Open Access