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Leadership Transition and the Development of the Top Management Team: A Case Study in Higher Education Open Access

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This qualitative, bounded, single case study centered on the process of building and leading the top management team during a presidential transition at a private, not-for-profit, coeducational, faith-based university in the United States. Specifically, the research concentrated on the dynamics of rebuilding a leadership team in a turbulent environment under a new president.The primary source of data was semi-structured, in-person interviews with the new president and nine out of 10 top management team members. Detailed interviews provided comprehensive and extraordinary first-hand access to the team construction and leadership process. Other data sources, including relevant artifacts, documents, and press releases, were collected and analyzed to provide important details about the case context.Major findings and conclusions are discussed in relation to the literature on leadership and top management teams. Five conclusions provide practical recommendations from the president’s vantage point: (1) the president recognized the necessity of restructuring her team in order to meet the board’s mandate; (2) in a highly turbulent institutional environment, the president constructed a diverse executive-level team with very limited resources; (3) the president’s communication and leadership style reflected a high degree of emotional intelligence that contributed to her overall effectiveness; (4) the president provided structure and a defined role, which enabled and guided the team to more effectively implement its mission; and (5) the president’s coaching assisted in (a) managing conflict, (b) developing trust, and (c) enhancing the team’s learning.Recommendations for future research and implications for both theory and practice are presented to conclude the study. Senior leadership teams are essential to the success of their organizations. Therefore, it is important that those charged with executive leadership give priority to the important task of systematically assessing and building the leadership team, particularly under new leadership. In this study, the new president completely overhauled the team, and her personal leadership style, which involved a high level of emotional intelligence along with personal coaching of the team, attracted others to join. The use of coaching in senior leadership teams in higher education seems to be emerging as a new area for theory development.

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