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Tufts, Winfield F.High People-High Mission: The Power of Caring Leadership as Experienced in the Air Force
Ph.D., Antioch University, 2018, Leadership and Change
On the surface, caring and the military appear to be opposites. The stereotypical image of the military giving and obeying orders does not conjure up images of leaders caring for their subordinates. In reality, caring for subordinates and caring for the mission could help leaders form stronger relationships with subordinates, because subordinates may have confidence that their leaders will not recklessly send them into harm’s way. Subordinates may develop confidence in their leaders based on their leaders’ care during non-combat environments. Yet, empirical studies of caring in the military are sparse. This study investigates how Air Force retirees characterize “great bosses” care for them and care for the mission. A mixed method study of 12 qualitative interviews with Air Force retirees, followed by a quantitative survey study of 226 Air Force retirees revealed that caring actions cluster into four themes: Caring for Subordinates Personally, Caring for Subordinates Professionally, Caring for the Mission with a Focus on Mission Execution, and Caring for the Mission with a Focus on Empowering the Unit. This study also examined how these subordinates responded to those bosses that cared for them through Stronger Job Performance and Stronger Relationship with the Boss. The dissertation findings operationalize caring, demonstrate correlations between caring actions and self-reported increases in performance and boss-subordinate relationship quality, and detail actions that an authentic, caring leader can take to pursue the flourishing of subordinates and mission success simultaneously. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA: Antioch University Repository and Archive, and Ohiolink ETD Center,


Laura Roberts, Ph.D. (Committee Chair); Carol Baron, Ph.D. (Committee Member); William Davis, Ph.D. (Committee Member)


Military Studies


Air Force; bosses; mixed methods; leadership; care; caring; caring leadership; military culture; military leadership; servant leadership; virtuous leadership