Date of Award


Degree Name

PhD Leadership Studies

Dissertation Committee

Zachary Gabriel Green, PhD; Fred J. Galloway, EdD; Christopher B. Newman, PhD


Attachment Theory, Authentic Leader Development, Character Strengths, Compassionate Love, Life Stories, Transformative Learning


Philosophers have mused for millennia about the essential nature of love in every human endeavor. Many ethical traditions have similarly placed love as a core principle, often referencing it in its universal form known as Agape. Yet, in colloquial language and contemporary times, love is equated more narrowly with romance or Eros. As such, the range and nuance of love seemingly lost some of its meaning over the centuries. This study explored love in a more complete light. It reclaimed the classical Greek definitions and inquired about the nature of love in modern leadership theories. From an empirical scholarly perspective, a review of the literature revealed direct references to love in leader development is largely absent. By working with a definition of love, the joining of the separated, attachment theory is offered as the conceptual parallel closest to love as a construct.

This qualitative study, informed by quantitative measures to further thematic development, examined the nature of the attachment of participants from a Love and Leadership course at a private West Coast university. Themes related to compassionate love, attachment theory, authentic leader development, and transformative learning were derived from interview, focus group, and survey data.

Study findings suggest that love is important in leader development. Unlike the contemporary understanding of romantic or erotic love, themes indicate that self-love, known classically as Philautia, is an essential domain in leader development. Life stories that allow for “emotionally corrective experiences” were further found to generate re-alignment of early attachments, promote forgiveness of self and others, and increase awareness of integrity and self-concept. Participants also reported greater composure and capacity for addressing VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) situations.

The study has implications for leader development and practitioner training. Those participants who were best able to name the nature of their attachments and continue practices designed to mitigate the toxic impact of life challenges were more likely to experience the learning as transformative. The themes from the study also provided a basis for an emerging conceptual framework on love and leadership that may influence ethical, inclusive, and compassionate leader development for both students and instructors.

Document Type

Dissertation: USD Users Only


Leadership Studies