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Transitional leadership: Perceptions of interim mid-level student affairs professionals

William A Boerner, Johnson & Wales University


It has been estimated that, due to increased turnover, an aging population, growing complexities and sizes of institutions, as well as the bureaucratization of searches, college and universities will see a continued increase in the utilization of interim leadership (Padilla, 2004). Student affairs divisions are not immune to this phenomenon and often hire interim managers to lead during times of employee or organizational transitions. Interim managers may be employed externally or from within the organization for various reasons, such as unexpected or involuntary turnovers, sudden departures, controversies, tragic events, or organizational dysfunction (Farquhar, 1995). Despite this common practice, limited educational research has been completed to understand the impact on those serving as interim managers within higher education (Farquhar, 1991; Goler, 2004; Goss & Bridson, 1998; McWilliam, Bridgstock, Lawson, Evans, & Taylor, 2008), and, in particular, in student affairs (Ondercin, 2009). This phenomenological, qualitative study utilized an elite informant interview (n=1), depth interviews (n =9), and a reflective participant questionnaire (n=7) to answer the following research question: How do mid-level managers working within student affairs in higher education perceive their experience while serving in an interim management position? This study investigated interim managers’ perceptions of their interim leadership experience to better understand the individual and institutional strategies and support necessary for success. Schlossberg’s transitional theory (Goodman, Schlossberg, & Anderson, 2006), involving coping strategies for individuals experiencing change, provided the theoretical framework to assess participant’s experiences. This study may provide higher education administrators a better understanding of the organizational dynamics created during transitional leadership, appropriate hiring and appointment of interim managers, and ways to provide adequate support during the interregnum as well as to the organization. Individuals currently serving or considering an interim position may gain valuable insights into the strategies and support needed towards a successful experience. Findings from the study highlighted that interim managers had mixed reactions to their experience yet considered it an opportunity to gain confidence, test or develop skills, and prove potential for future employment opportunities. Additional findings outlined that individuals felt supported in their interim role, and perceived a positive experience if they were seasoned professionals, appointed outside of their department, and if they had prior experience serving as an interim.

Subject Area

Higher Education Administration|Educational leadership|School administration|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Boerner, William A, "Transitional leadership: Perceptions of interim mid-level student affairs professionals" (2011). Dissertation & Theses Collection. AAI3426628.