Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Joseph C. Rost, PhD, Director; Mary Woods Scherr, PhD; Wallace Cohen, EdD


case study, county government, Leadership studies, leadership relationship, public service, qualitative, San Diego (California)


This research addresses the nature of leadership. Reflecting a sound theoretical base, the researcher studied the people involved in a complex change process, and listened to their perceptions about change and leadership. The study goes beyond the idea of the individual leader into the notion of a leadership relationship. It is a study of the persons who were active in the relationship, a study of their behaviors and language as they changed how the county government served the public. One of the primary purposes of the study is to demonstrate how these insights regarding change and the nature of leadership are relevant to the study and practice of public administration in a regional government in the United States. This is an interactive, in-depth study of a specific change process in the County of San Diego, the fourth largest county government in the United States. In 1983 County Supervisor Leon Williams convened a task force to study and evaluate the formulation of public policy making and program implementation in the county's government. At the same time, the news media called for changes in county government in a 1984 series of articles in the San Diego Tribune titled "County in Chaos." The researcher provides an analytical narrative of seven years of this change process based on the data that were compiled through nonreactive research, participant observation, and extensive interviews with over 60 key decision makers and participants in the change process. The findings of the study indicate that intended changes have occurred in the county government and that these changes were perceived differently among the participants. The changes most difficult for the county to actualize without a leadership relationship were those which involved its culture and valued meanings. Although the county officials and other participants demonstrated great interest in the concept of leadership, they had no working definition of leadership. There were shared descriptors, but no commonly understood definition. The researcher concluded that there is a need for a working definition of leadership for the practitioner that can be understood, used and taught. It must allow for the purposes of a diverse society to be heard and reflected in the processes of the future. The working definition, the author suggests, is: Leadership is a dialectical, influence relationship among leaders and followers who intend real changes which reflect their mutual and evolving purposes.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access