Date of Award

Spring 4-6-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Cindy Petersen, Ed.D.

Second Advisor

Keith Larick, Ed.D.

Third Advisor

Jody Graf, Ed.D.


Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological research study was to describe the behaviors that exemplary middle school principals practice to lead their organization through conversations using Groysberg and Slind’s (2012) four elements of conversational leadership: intimacy, interactivity, inclusion, and intentionality.

Methodology: This phenomenological qualitative study described the lived experiences of exemplary middle school principals in Orange County, California. The researcher was part of a thematic research team of 12 peer researchers and 4 faculty advisors. Through purposeful sampling, the researcher selected 10 exemplary middle school principals who met at least 4 of 6 criteria identifying someone as exemplary. Data collection included face-to-face semi-structured interviews using a protocol developed by the thematic research team. The researcher conducted observations and gathered relevant artifacts for triangulation, then coded all data for emergent themes.

Findings: The analysis of data resulted in 20 themes and 1,358 references across the four conversational leadership elements of intimacy, interactivity, inclusion, and intentionality. From these 20 themes, 8 key findings emerged.

Conclusions: Four conclusions were drawn from the data and findings that described the lived experience of exemplary middle school principals who lead through conversation. Exemplary middle school principals must (a) fully commit themselves to engage members of their organization through conversations and build relationships with stakeholders; (b) promote open conversations in an accessible, interactive environment; (c) create support structures to ensure a clear organizational direction through responsive, purposeful, and well-designed dialogue with all stakeholders; and (d) communicate and model clear expectations to lead stakeholders and ensure clarity of organizational purpose.

Recommendations: Further research still needs to be conducted on conversational leadership. Replications of this phenomenological study should focus on demographics of principals (e.g., gender, age) and middle schools (e.g., size, student population, socio-economic factors). Mixed-methods research studies should add a quantitative tool to draw further insight into the conversational leadership behaviors of exemplary middle school principals. Meta-analysis research studies should consider data from all 12 thematic team studies and another should analyze data drawn from research completed by thematic peer researchers who focused on exemplary elementary, middle, and high school principals.