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The role of the modern presidency is complex, requiring a multitude of skills. Women continue to be underrepresented in the presidency, with just a third of American higher education institutions led by women. In recent years, a rise in non-traditional presidents of higher education institutions has resulted in an increased focus in research on the pathways to the presidency and presidential preparation. This hermeneutic phenomenological study explores the lived experiences of women presidents within the boundaryless career competencies, to identify key competencies in the areas of skills, characteristics, relationship building, and motivations for the role. A summary of the findings of this research presents multiple themes across the three boundaryless career areas, as well as a fourth area identified as pathways to the presidency. When considering pathways to the presidency, the following themes were identified: all experience is good experience, teaching, experience in academia, non-academic experience, prior leadership experience, interim experience, and a boundaryless career path. Within the know-how competencies, the following themes emerged: problem-solving, financial acumen, communication, multitasking or pivot, self-confidence, decisiveness, vision, work ethic, and being ethical. Within the know-whom competencies, the following themes presented: mentoring, relationships with stakeholders, trust, boundary spanner, valuing perspectives, team building, and people skills. Finally, the know-why competencies, or motivations, revealed the following themes: the importance of motivation, a love of teaching, being asked to lead, institution above self, community impact, institutional fit, did not want to be president, desire for change, and changing lives. Experiences shared by participants across the areas of the boundaryless career competencies as well as their pathways to the role of president revealed a commonality of a servant leadership ethos, an acknowledgement of the realities of life as a public figure, and the importance of support networks.


File nameDate UploadedVisibilityFile size
20 Jul 2022
117 kB



  • Advisor
    • Katherine Rose Adams, Bonita Jacobs, Robert Michael

  • Department
    • Education

  • Date submitted

    20 July 2022

  • Keywords