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College President Perceptions of Personal Wellness: Exploring "Well-ish" and the Work-Life Balance of Mid-Career Private College Presidents

Daryl Cioffi, Johnson & Wales University


Leadership has entered an age of chronic unrest. Scholars have emphasized the impact of healthy and effective leaders on organizations (Crother-Laurin, 2006), yet recent studies reveal high stress and burnout in the contemporary workplace (Walsh, 2005, 2013). The academy faces their own organizational challenges, (Archibald & Feldman, 2010) calling into question the health and effectiveness of leaders, especially at the presidential level (Duderstadt, 2010). While the study of college president wellness has been explored through multiple lenses (McNair, Duree, & Ebbers, 2011; Tekniepe, 2014; Walker & McPhail, 2009), some researchers highlight the unique needs of mid-career presidents of private institutions. To date, minimal research has been conducted on wellness for this population. Using the presidential office as the pivotal point of inquiry, this qualitative interpretive constructivist study sought to answer the following research questions: RQ1: How do mid-career college presidents perceive personal wellness? • RQ1a: What value does wellness play in the lives of mid-career presidents? • RQ1b: How do mid-career college presidents apply wellness techniques in their lives? • RQ1c: Have these wellness practices changed throughout their time as president? Interviews with (N = 10) mid-career private college presidents were conducted, as well as an (N = 1) elite interview with an executive coach. These data were analyzed using Giorgi’s (2009) analytical strategy. Interview observation data and document analyses of various institutional documents (websites and presidential social media) supplemented the data set. Boyatzis’ (1998) data analysis strategy was applied to observation and document data. Hettler’s (1976) six dimensions of wellness were used to guide study design, develop instrumentation, and contextualize the definition of wellness used in this study. Five themes emerged from this study: mid-career college presidents identified the continuous challenges of their position, transitional issues and the need to mitigate stressors, their conscious acknowledgement of wellness, their need for social connections and family, and their efforts to pursue personal wellness in a taxing environment. These findings highlight the complexities of the mid-career college president’s quest for personal wellness. This study may assist academic leaders and board members with the knowledge to develop programs and resources for presidents, supporting wellness for future leaders.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Cioffi, Daryl, "College President Perceptions of Personal Wellness: Exploring "Well-ish" and the Work-Life Balance of Mid-Career Private College Presidents" (2018). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI10746629.