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The thoughtful development of others: A qualitative study of the impact of developmental relationships on chief academic officers in higher education

Heidi M Sherick, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Higher education rarely develops the capacity of its leaders in an intentional way (Eckel & Hartley, 2011). "Colleges and universities, unlike many similarly sized corporations, do not view talent development as a strategic priority" (Eckel & Hartley, 2011, p. 29). The complexity of higher education, as well as the increased demands and challenges, require better prepared leaders. Despite this need, there is little research on informal one-on-one leadership development tactics in higher education. To understand how leadership is fostered informally, this study focused on developmental relationships in higher education. Specifically, this study examined the role developmental relationships, and the functions therein, played in career advancement into leadership positions for chief academic officers in higher education. The study utilized a modified analytic induction qualitative approach using questionnaires and interviews with Chief Academic Officers (CAO) at institutions belonging to the Association of American Universities (AAU). Through the interviews, data were gathered about what happened in the CAOs' developmental relationship experiences, and to what extent the individual developmental relationship functions impacted their career advancement. Through the data collection and analysis the researcher examined how developmental relationships helped promote and prepare leaders in higher education and identified emergent developmental relationship functions specific to this population. A paramount finding of this study was the significance, effectiveness, and usefulness of role modeling in developmental relationships experienced by the participants. In addition, the findings identified a unique set of functions of developmental relationships experienced by these higher education leaders that are not identical to the developmental relationship functions in business sectors. The new functions specific to the population of higher education leaders represented by the sample were collaboration and problem solving. The importance of peer relationships and the existence of multiple developers were also key findings. Future research across a broader range of higher education leaders and institutions is needed to reinforce the findings of this study.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership|School administration

Recommended Citation

Sherick, Heidi M, "The thoughtful development of others: A qualitative study of the impact of developmental relationships on chief academic officers in higher education" (2014). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3669043.