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Leadership traits of successful women university presidents: A qualitative study

Tania Carlson Reis, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


According to the 2012 report from the American Council on Education, women hold 22% of college presidencies at United States doctoral granting institutions. Four women were interviewed who lead universities listed in the 2010 Carnegie Classification of Institutes of Higher Education as Research Universities, Very High Research. Although leadership and women university presidents have been studied in the past, those studies focused on external issues of access and barriers to the position. The purpose of this narrative study was to identify and describe the traits of women presidents who are leading top research universities. Each woman shared her views on leadership, successful leadership traits, barriers in her path to the presidency and ways she navigated difficulties along the way. The Big 5 personality inventory (McCrae & Costa, 1987). served as a conceptual framework for organizing leadership traits. The 4 presidents in this study showed evidence of positive traits in their words and actions. These traits informed each participant's leadership success. Each participant also met barriers that required navigational skills to negotiate. Gender, professional development and family life were things each president was required to negotiate in order to achieve a leadership position. It was more than pure luck that allowed these women to survive and do their job. It was multiple layers of innate traits, commitment to practice, attention to detail and pure perseverance.

Subject Area

Educational leadership|Womens studies

Recommended Citation

Reis, Tania Carlson, "Leadership traits of successful women university presidents: A qualitative study" (2015). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3689734.