Date of Award

Winter 12-19-2019

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Keith Larick

Second Advisor

Cindy Petersen

Third Advisor

Kristin Baranski


Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological study was to understand and describe

how exemplary elementary school principals use storytelling to lead organizations

using Denning’s (2011) model. In addition, it was the purpose to understand how

exemplary elementary school principals use storytelling to create transformational

change in organizations. Denning’s The Leader’s Guide to Storytelling highlights eight storytelling narrative patterns:

  • Storytelling to ignite action and implement new ideas
  • Storytelling to build trust
  • Storytelling to build brand
  • Storytelling to transmit organizational values
  • Storytelling to foster collaboration
  • Storytelling to share knowledge
  • Storytelling to neutralize rumor
  • Storytelling to share your vision

Methodology: This phenomenological qualitative study described the lived experiences

of exemplary elementary school principals in West Michigan. The researcher was

part of a thematic research team of 3 peer researchers and 2 faculty advisors. Through

purposeful sampling, the researcher selected 10 exemplary elementary school principals who met at least 4 of 6 criteria identifying someone as exemplary. The collection of data included face-to-face semi-structured interviews. The interviews followed a protocol developed by the thematic research team. The researcher conducted observations and gathered relevant artifacts for data triangulation. From there, the data were coded, and emergent themes were identified.

Findings: The analysis of data resulted in 24 themes and 1,185 coded references across the eight narrative patterns and transformational change. From the 24 themes 6 key findings emerged.

Conclusions: Four conclusions were drawn from the data and findings that described the

lived experience of exemplary elementary school principals who lead through storytelling.

Exemplary elementary school principals must (a); elementary principals that use stories to create and share the vision will be more successful in igniting action and implementing school changes (b); elementary school principals that tell student success stories will more successfully navigate the complex role of the principal when transmitting organizational values and making transformational change (c); elementary school principals will more successfully navigate the complex role of the principal when they use social media to share knowledge, build brand, and tell positive stories (d); elementary school principals are more successful when they tell current reality stories to transmit organizational values and foster collaboration.

Recommendations: While this study lays the groundwork for leadership storytelling in elementary schools, further research still needs to be conducted on leadership storytelling in elementary schools. Replications of this phenomenological study should focus on other levels of schooling, such as middle and high school storytelling principals. Mixed-methods research studies should add a quantitative tool to draw further insight into the leadership storytelling practices of exemplary elementary school principals. Meta-analysis research studies should consider data from all 3 thematic team. Finally, a mixed-method study should be completed that analyzes how the stories impact stakeholders, such as parents, students, and the community.