Imagery of Regent people and campus

Dissertation Abstract

The Ecology of Leadership: Examining the Relational Dynamics of Dyads
Through the Lens of Symbolic Interactionism

Kathryn A. Adamson
April 2012

Dyadic relationships have been long studied within the field of leadership. The leader-follower dyad has been extensively empirically researched and analyzed. However, in the past, a majority of dyadic studies have been limited to traditional positivistic paradigms. In order to advance dyadic research, theorists have suggested considering the dyadic relationship under alternative paradigms where the unit of analysis is the relationship itself. The rationale for this study emanated from the researchers desire to extend knowledge on the dyadic relationship by studying relational dynamics under a symbolic interactionist paradigm, a paradigm that views dyadic relationships as created through perpetual interaction. Additionally, this study used an ecological analogy of symbiosis to conceptualize how to understand the long-term impacts of relationship development through interdependent action. This study asked the following question: How does dyadic symbiosis produce mutually beneficial or detrimental relationships? This question was explored by conducting a qualitative, narrative inquiry. A purposeful, maximum variation sampling strategy was used to select five dyads for participation. Conversational interviews were conducted both at the individual and dyadic levels, and subjects were asked to share past and present stories. This study's findings suggested that the relational side of leadership is able to cultivate highly beneficial or extremely detrimental long-term effects. Mutually beneficial relationships appeared to evolve when individual value was prioritized. On the other hand, detrimental relationships were produced out of a worker-bee mentality that suppressed or confined the individual. Lastly, findings suggested that human freedom as expressed through communication, choice, and self-awareness perpetuated the relationship forward. Therefore, this study proposed that mutual responsibility is necessary for beneficial relationships within a leadership context. Overall, this study was designed to contribute to the field of leadership research by investigating the dyadic relationship as a perpetual process through the paradigm of symbolic interactionism and in relation to biological analogy.