Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


Spinning Straw into Gold: Dynamics of a Rumpelstiltskin Style of Leadership

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Patrick D. Pauken

Second Advisor

Mark A. Earley


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to examine gender differences in the approach, analysis, and resolution of ethical dilemmas within professional communication posed by the employment of spin. Spin is defined as the deliberate shading and manipulation of language to achieve a desired reaction from followers, with effective use resulting in the maintenance of organizational and position power. Read against the backdrop of the work of Gilligan (1982), who argues for an ethic of care and responsibility in the resolution of ethical dilemmas, and Kohlberg (1984), who argues the centrality of a morality of justice as integral to this resolution, results of this study challenges the authors’ respective stances relative to a gendered meta-analysis and resolution of ethical dilemmas, particularly when applied within the culture of higher education. The additional aim of this study was to capture and contrast from male and female participants the variables they viewed as salient in their resolution of what the researcher has argued and posed as an ethical dilemma within professional communication, the employment of spin. Thus, professional communication dynamics, linguistic negotiation of the workplace, and the language and leadership tools necessary for ownership of occupational power were examined and contrasted by gender. The study was limited to five leaders in positions of influence in the field of higher education. The study addressed five research questions. All of the questions focused on participant interpretation of a researcher-developed instrument labeled Gauge of Language Negotiation. Each of the participants provided an ethical dilemma from their professional experience, an interpretation of the Gauge of Language Negotiation, a representation and charting of each of the ethical dilemmas offered along the gauge continuum, and a conceptual description of their thinking relative to their approach, analysis, and resolution of ethical dilemmas involving spin, with direct application to the Gauge of Language Negotiation. Results of interviews revealed parallel approach, analysis, and resolution of ethical dilemmas employing the use of spin across gender lines. Leader patterns of observation relative to the approach to ethical dilemmas were exhibited in five conceptual areas: empathy, focus on players/relationships, focus on issues, focus on rationale, and focus on strategy toward solution. Leader patterns of observation relative to the analysis of ethical dilemmas were also exhibited in five conceptual areas: dilemma conflict identification, identification of moral pull, salience, weighing, and resolution of ethical scenarios. The types of dilemmas offered by participant leaders, as well as the end goals sought by the leaders revealed consistent ethics of care and justice in dilemma resolution and effects on leader constituencies.