Date of Award


Degree Name

EdD Doctor of Education

Dissertation Committee

Mary Woods Scherr, PhD, Chair; Robert Donmoyer, PhD; Port R. Martin, EdD


interim commanding officers, Leadership studies, military, organizational culture, qualitative, U.S. Navy Operational Units


Commanding officers in the United States Navy are entrusted by law with absolute authority, responsibility, and accountability. Despite a rigorous selection process, some commanding officers are relieved of command every year. In many cases, these commanding officers are replaced by interim commanding officers, leaders selected to fill the job for short periods of time. There is a gap in leadership literature about the phenomenon of interim command leadership in the Navy. This study investigated interim commanding officers' experiences of taking command following the deliberate removal of the unit's previous commanding officer. A review of current literature on the subjects of command at sea, leadership, organizational culture, and leading planned change in organizations was conducted to develop a basis for understanding existing theories about challenges facing incoming leaders, effective leadership behaviors to generate change within an organization, and recommended strategies for effecting organizational change. A qualitative research methodology was used to provide rich detail about the experiences of interim commanding officers and to develop theories grounded in the data. Eleven former Navy interim commanding officers were interviewed to obtain data to answer the following research questions: (1) What were the experiences and leadership challenges faced by interim commanding officers? (2) Which experiences, if any, differed from their first command tour? (3) What observations were made by interim commanding officers about the organizational culture and morale of the wardroom upon their arrival and departure from the unit? (4) Which leadership behaviors and strategies, if any, did interim commanding officers find useful to change the organizational culture and morale of the wardroom? The findings suggested that: (a) interim commanding officers experienced a higher degree of confidence entering the assignment than on their first command tour, (b) the unknown and not knowing who among the crew they could trust were challenges, (c) effects on the wardroom varied with severity of the incident, the crew's perceived association with the event, and remoteness factors, and (d) that by modeling desired behaviors and focusing on communication, interim commanding officers restored confidence in leadership and mission readiness to the wardroom, the crew and external stakeholders.

Document Type

Dissertation: Open Access