Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Cheryl Getz, EdD, Chair Robert Donmoyer, PhD, Member Johanna Hunsaker, PhD, Member


leadership, women leaders, secretary of state, feminist leadership diamond, autobiographical data, qualitative research


American political systems, predominantly steered by White males, often conform to masculine leadership paradigms derived from traditionally male-dominated domains like the U.S. government. Thus, it is vital to explore women’s roles in political leadership to foster a more comprehensive understanding of effective leadership.

The purpose of this study was to examine how women who have served as U.S. secretary of state exhibited leadership. Of the 71 people to have served as secretary of state, just three have been women: Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, and Hillary Rodham Clinton. Due to the complexity of gendered experiences, and the challenges of having direct contact with leading figures, I used biographical research as a means of data collection and a case study/cross-case analysis design paired with a constructivist grounded theory strategy as the method of inquiry.

Findings reveal Albright’s leadership is anchored in her Czech American heritage, unwavering optimism, and commitment to democracy. Her adept use of humor and direct communication facilitated diplomatic negotiations and fostered relationships on the global stage. Similarly, Rice’s leadership exemplified the complexities of leadership dynamics and the pursuit of personal empowerment within institutional structures. Her story served as a testament to the importance of fostering strong relationships, maintaining loyalty, and navigating power dynamics skillfully to wield influence effectively in high-level governance. Clinton’s leadership journey emphasized the impact of personal values and building connections on diplomatic engagement. Her implementation of smart power—combining traditional sources of power with innovative and inclusive methods—reshaped U.S. foreign policy, emphasizing the interconnectedness of various factors in addressing global challenges.

This study illuminated the role of identity in shaping leaders’ backgrounds, values, and objectives. It also emphasized their engagement with power, whether through personal authority, navigating established dynamics, or employing strategic approaches to achieve diplomatic goals. Moreover, the importance of nurturing meaningful relationships emerged as a common theme among the three leaders.

Practical implications for future leaders included prioritizing genuine relationships, strategic diplomacy, and adeptly navigating power dynamics within institutional structures. By examining these women’s leadership experiences, the study contributed to a more nuanced understanding of effective leadership beyond traditional masculine frameworks.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access


Leadership Studies