Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Johanna S. Hunsaker, PhD, Director; James Kelly, EdD; Daniel M. Miller, PhD


Grounded theory, Leadership studies, leadership transition, management, public sector, retired military officers, San Diego (California)


For personal and financial reasons some retired military officers seek second careers in the public sector. In entering local government, they are leaving a unique organization, and encountering a very different organizational culture. This study used grounded theory methodology to identify the key military leadership strategies and behaviors learned by military officers and to examine their applicability to local government. It focused on eleven retired naval and marine officers who served twenty or more years, attained a rank of lieutenant commander or major and above, and had worked in local San Diego government at the mid-management or executive level less than six years. Findings were triangulated with literature and other research. Participant data described rapid leadership development as a military priority shaped by early responsibility, education, mentoring and command experiences. Leadership practices include using a contingency leadership style, firm discipline, a controlled environment, straightforward communications, training and development, values, camaraderie building, a command presence, standard operating procedures and centrally-mandated change. Retired officers needed to adjust some military leadership practices to respond to the organizational systems and culture of local government. In addition, each encountered stereotypes of retired military officers that affected their image and capacity to influence their organization. The retired officers interviewed identified strategies that aided them in succeeding in the public sector. These included: using a coaching style to lead staff, following up on directives, actively managing performance, adopting a less direct communications style, improving employee selection and development, creating ownership, actively working to change systems, building influence and political relationships, introducing change by influence, consciously developing their reputation and countering stereotypes of military officers. Some retired officers used strategies that were less successful. These included: using a direct communication style, using military jargon, assuming compliance, accepting and criticizing the status quo, developing an inner circle, expecting the executive to initiate career development and direct change, becoming frustrated, and failing to react to stereotypes.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access