Date of Award

Spring 3-22-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Organizational Leadership

First Advisor

Jonathan Greenberg

Second Advisor

Peggy Wozniak

Third Advisor

Cheryl-Marie Osborne-Hansberger


Purpose: The purpose of this phenomenological study was to describe how exemplary K-12 school district superintendents lead from the heart using Mark Crowley’s four principles (building a highly engaged team, connecting on a personal level, maximizing employee potential, and valuing and honoring achievements) to accomplish extraordinary results in their organizations.

Methodology: This study utilized a qualitative phenomenological inquiry methodology to study the behaviors of eight exemplary K-12 school district superintendents in Southern California. Open-ended semistructured interviews were conducted utilizing a virtual platform. Responses from interviews in conjunction with observations and appropriate artifacts including, meeting agendas, memos, and newsletters provided information about the behaviors and lived experiences of hear-led leaders. The data collected was analyzed and organized into themes by NVivo software. The emerging themes identified patterns of behavior exemplary superintendents exhibited in leading their district.

Findings: Data analysis from virtual interviews, observations, and artifacts resulted in 18 themes, 14 key findings, and 1,459 frequencies for the four principles of heart-led leadership.

Conclusions: The framework of heart-led leadership (Crowley, 2011) was utilized to describe the behaviors K-12 exemplary school district superintendents exhibit to lead their organizations. The analysis of data resulted in 4 conclusions. Superintendents who exhibit leadership from the heart (a) spend time to hire the right people, (b) connect on a personal level to establish strong relationships, (c) create success for all members by maximizing employee potential, and (d) foster a culture of gratitude by valuing and honoring achievements.

Recommendations: Post pandemic replication of the study is recommended when in person interviews can be facilitated. It is also recommended that a mixed-method study gathering and comparing qualitative and quantitative data to draw conclusions on heart-led behaviors of school district superintendents. Understanding the differences in leadership styles of male and female superintendents, further research is recommended to study gender differences in heart-led leadership principles. Moreover, because of the significance of mentoring relationships, it is recommended that a study is conducted to examine the differences in lived experiences between school districts superintendents who have mentors vs. those who don’t.