Publication Date


Document Type


Committee Members

Mindy S. McNutt, Ph.D. (Committee Chair); Rachel E. Sturm, Ph.D. (Committee Member); David S. Bright, Ph.D. (Committee Member); Corey Seemiller, Ph.D. (Committee Member)

Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


This study explored how formally assigned, organizational leaders perceive their employees using an explanatory sequential mixed-method approach. Applying the tropes associated with labeling theory (i.e., the perceptual frame within the labeling process) and positive organizational elements (i.e., positive deviance and positive leadership), the research determined what potential labels leaders assign to employees they supervise, examined the degree to which self-assessed positive leaders assign more positive descriptors, and identified contextual factors that influence the leaders’ labeling process. As part of an eligibility process for the study, leaders completed a positive leader self-assessment (n = 62), of which a sample (n = 46) participated in a diary study throughout one workweek. As a group, the leaders assigned positive descriptors to their employees 78% of the time during the study. Leaders who assessed themselves as effective positive leaders (M = 20.42, SD = 4.010) used more positive descriptors than those who did not (M = 15.24, SD = 5.533). Of the descriptors that were considered potential labels, 34% were positive and only 4% were negative. Leader labeling of person-related deviances (rather than job-related) was more likely used to describe extreme traits, behaviors, and emotions that the leader did or did not value. A more meaningful understanding of what labels leaders apply to employees, why they apply them, and whether they relate to self-assessed positivity can improve leadership within organizations. Empowered with this understanding, leaders can improve self-awareness and more positively influence employees.

Page Count


Department or Program

Department of Leadership Studies in Education and Organizations

Year Degree Awarded