This study demonstrates the value of organization-specific articulations of exemplary leadership. The research topic relates to leadership and organizational studies in general, and higher educational leadership and organizational commitment in particular. The focus of inquiry is the complex, human-organizational phenomenon of exemplary leadership commitment to mission and identity among lay leaders in the Catholic and Marianist tradition of one top-tier research university in the United States. The context of inquiry is the emerging prominence and critical role of lay leadership in Catholic higher education. The researcher offers an in-depth examination of how exemplary lay leaders experience and practice their personal commitment to Catholic-Marianist mission and identity. The research objective is to understand and describe the essential meanings in the lived experiences of exemplary lay leaders, presenting individual descriptions and collective syntheses of the phenomenon in focus. The intended audience includes leaders in Marianist and Catholic higher education; administrators involved in leadership development and mission and identity enculturation; and researchers in higher education, phenomenology, and interdisciplinary studies in leadership and organizational behavior.
Using the transcendental phenomenological research method, the researcher generates eight individual “portraits-in-words,” containing multilayered human portrayals that allow the reader to intuit and empathize with the interior experiences and meaning making of the exemplary lay leaders in this study. The researcher also analyzes the experiential data collectively, presenting numerous “composite syntheses” of the apparent textures and underlying structures of the phenomenon in focus. Finally, the researcher describes three “streams” within the lived experience of the phenomenon, namely: exemplary lay commitment, exemplary Marianist leadership, and the experience of Catholic and Marianist mission and identity, concluding with a brief “statement of essence” containing essential meanings that do not vary across the descriptions of exemplary lay leaders.
This study contributes to the narrative of Catholic and Marianist higher education by empirically investigating the interior lives of exemplary leaders, articulating a phenomenology of exemplary lay leadership commitment to mission and identity, and drawing insights from the lived experiences of present-day exemplary leaders in order to inform future leadership practice, development, and research. The future of mission and identity in Catholic and Marianist higher education hinges on one critical factor – the ongoing presence of the interior phenomenon of exemplary lay leadership commitment to mission and identity. This study sheds a bright light on this noteworthy and necessary phenomenon – sine qua non (without which nothing) – thus preserving its legacy in institutional memory, and offering “seeds” for reflection, conversation, and action.
Key terms: phenomenology, interior life, exemplary leadership, lay leaders, commitment, mission and identity, Catholic, Marianist, university, higher education, interdisciplinary studies, organizational behavior, educational philosophy, leadership ethics, organization-specific articulations of exemplary leadership.