Higher education is facing a period of continual change driven by numerous external and internal forces. Consequently, higher education leaders are faced with the frequent and daunting task of planning and managing organizational change in higher education institutions, which are both complex and dynamic in nature. Adding difficulty to this task is the fact that employees often react to change with emotional responses that are both challenging to understand and complicated and to manage. Managing affective dimensions of change can be overwhelming to leaders, which can lead to failed organizational change efforts. This study explored and answered (a) how a group of leaders conceptualized and experienced the affective dimensions of change; in addition to (b) if and how, those leaders planned to manage employee affective responses during a change process? This study used a phenomenography methodology and included a sample of eight participants who had experience managing organizational change at a U.S. institution of higher education. Data were gathered through semi-structured interview protocol utilizing a set of 10 standard questions. Each interview was recorded and transcribed, at which point data was analyzed through a thematic coding process. Analysis of the participant responses returned findings aligned to eight themes, all of which associated with one of the study's two research questions. Themes and associated findings relating to the first research question were: (a) situational variables; (b) leader readiness; (c) leader beliefs (constructs); and (d) unexpected affective responses. Themes and associated findings relating to the second research question were: (a) communication strategies; (b) leader competencies; (c) leader behaviors and attitudes; and (d) culture. From these findings, the research and analysis yielded three conclusions. First, before leaders can effectively manage and help employees cope with affective factors, they must first focus on becoming emotionally centered. Second, leaders in higher education face unique factors that add to the difficulty of managing affective responses during organizational change. Lastly, higher education leaders are not sufficiently prepared to manage affective dimensions of change; leaders need additional training and development in order to effectively help their employees cope with affective factors throughout the change process.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Educational change -- Education (Higher); Educational leadership -- Education (Higher); Organizational change -- Education (Higher)

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Barbara Mather