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Dissertation Abstract

A Phenomenological Inquiry of the Psychological Antecedents of Preferred Leadership Behavior in a Sports Context

Jason D. Carthen
February 2009

Sport is a microcosm of society; and it is able to transcend economic, cultural, and racial boundaries. A review of the literature suggests a dearth of research exists that explores the prefered leadership style of elite athletes in a competitive sport setting. This research endeavor postulates that if leaders are able to harness the tremendous influence enjoyed by those upon the platform of athletics, they will have an entree into much deeper and larger philosophical discussions concerning integrity, values, virtue, and what the ancient historical writers called "Arete" or the discipline of optimal behavior in all things. The exploratory research question for this study is as follows: How do elite competitive athletes perceive, experience, and respond to positive psychological capacities demonstrated by their coaches? These sorts and types of leadership inquiries will inform future generations of leaders and followers which will lead to a greater understanding of not only elite competitive athletes but organizational citizens who are the lifeblood of the bottom line of many organizations. The key is identifying the same positive psychological motivators that occur on the playing field and implementing them in an organizational context. This inquiry utilized three focus groups with 10 elite professional football players under contract with the Cleveland Browns football franchise. Throughout the progression of the three focus groups, support for four positive psychology themes began to emerge: (a) hope, (b) optimism, (c) resilience, and (d) self-efficacy. These themes proved significant because of the athletes' positive perceptions, experiences, and subsequent performance as a result of their coach's espoused and enacted leadership style. Focus group participants revealed that coaches who demonstrate or enact positive psychological behaviors actually cause a follower to embrace and emulate the very ethos of that coach. Furthermore, the coach's enactment was shown to create a greater proclivity for the players to realize optimal fucntioning both on and off the field through the attainment of biopsychospiritual homeostasis (BH). The result is greater organizational productivity and a greater return on investment achieved through better overall organizational health derived from motivated and fully engaged followers.