Publication Date

Winter 2016

Advisor(s) - Committee Chair

Barbara Burch (Director), Jane Olmsted, Kristin Wilson

Degree Program

Educational Leadership Doctoral Program

Degree Type

Doctor of Education


In this grounded theory study, I explored the process of leadership demonstrated by three women in south central Kentucky as a unique model of leadership: disruptive leadership. These citizen leaders seek to solve wicked problems, disrupting the unacceptable status quo by offering better alternatives. The study is guided by the following research questions: (1) What does it mean to be a disruptive leader?; (2) What are the central concerns of leaders facing wicked problems?; (3) What motivates leaders to solve such problems?; (4) What strategies are employed to address such problems?; and (5) How can disruptive leadership be distinguished from other leadership styles that share similar traits? Using a grounded theory approach, I analyzed interview and written narrative and field observations for emergent themes to answer the research questions and to better understand the leadership demonstrated by each of these women. I identified four main themes in my analysis of the data: (1) Each leader possesses the capacity for disruptive wonder. (2) Each leader is engaged in the disruption of existing power structure and distribution. (3) In the process of disruptive wonder each leader challenges hegemony. (4) Each leader uses innovative and effective strategies to solve a wicked problem. The themes provide insight into these leaders’ capacities, motivations, and strategies, and offer a foundational construct for a model of leadership in which citizen leaders challenge hegemony and existing power structures to build inclusive emergent communities that are empowered to address wicked problems.


Educational Leadership | Women's Studies