Leadership Studies Ed.D. Dissertations


The Relationship Between Leadership Traits and Effectiveness Among the Private, Public, and Nonprofit Sectors

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


Leadership Studies

First Advisor

Patrick Pauken (Committee Co-Chair)

Second Advisor

William Ingle (Committee Co-Chair)

Third Advisor

Maureen Wilson (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Lynn Bachelor (Committee Member)

Fifth Advisor

Michael Gillespie (Committee Member)

Sixth Advisor

Chris Willis (Committee Member)


Leadership and its aspects have been studied for more than two centuries. There are a variety of definitions of leadership and leadership effectiveness. However, studies investigating how leadership and leader effectiveness differ by sector have been limited. This study explored three research questions: (1) are the traits of involvement, adaptability, consistency, and mission related to ratings of leadership effectiveness; (2) are there significant differences in the traits among the private, public, and nonprofit sectors; (3) are there significant differences in the correlation between X and Y among the three sectors. The traits and ratings of leader effectiveness were measured using the Denison Leadership Survey, a 360 multi-rater instrument developed by Denison and Neal (1996). This study defined leader effectiveness as high ratings of role modeling, relationship, communication, change agent and high performance.

Bivariate correlation was used to determine the relationship between each trait and leadership effectiveness ratings. Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) with post hoc tests examined the differences among the sectors for each trait. The correlation coefficients were transformed using Fisher’s Z for sector to sector comparison utilizing independent samples. The sample consisted of 7,570 respondents to the instrument.

Analysis supported a strong positive relationship between the traits and ratings of leadership effectiveness. ANOVA with post hoc analysis indicated involvement and adaptability traits significantly differed for the public vs. private sectors and the private vs. nonprofit sectors. The consistency and mission traits significantly differed among the three sectors. Results were mixed in the correlation coefficients between traits and effectiveness. Adaptability-effectiveness and mission-effectiveness were significantly different among all three sectors. However, consistency-effectiveness was different between the private and public sectors only. The results of this study confirm that leadership traits and sector context play roles in leadership effectiveness. The implication is leadership theory and practice should not be treated in a generic manner, but should consider the sector as well as leadership traits. For leaders dealing with multiple stakeholders, adapting behaviors based on sector helps to form relationships, such as with board members. The results of this study also may also inform the designing of leadership development programs and leadership selection/promotion.