Higher education leaders have a unique position of power and influence that can span generations (Clawson, 2009). Previous research discovered emotional intelligence to be the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence (Bar-On, 1997; Brown, 2009; Goleman & Boyatzis, 2008; Zeidner, Matthews, & Roberts, 2012). Play develops sensing capabilities for teamwork, self-awareness, empathy, trust, and compassion, which inform development of emotional intelligence. Exploring the influence of play in developing emotional intelligence fills a void in existing research. This explanatory sequential mixed methods study sought to discover the power of play in developing emotional intelligence in higher education leaders and the resulting impact on their ability to develop and lead emotionally intelligent teams in creating a high-performing organization. Research questions focused on assessing individual emotional intelligence, team emotional and social intelligence, the meaning of the power of play and its impact in developing emotional intelligence, personal play history descriptions, power of play in developing emotional intelligence (individual and team), and describing emotional intelligence skill level and its impact on personal leadership success. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT), Team Emotional and Social Intelligence (TESI), and personal play history narratives (gathered with five researcher-designed questions) were the instruments used. The study was conducted with the eight members of the University Cabinet of a private, Liberal Arts university in the Midwest. All eight members fully participated in the research, with honest and oftentimes personal responses, providing rich data for examination. Participants expressed a high level of awareness of the value of play over a lifetime to maintain good physical and psychological health. They also were able to make direct linkages to their play experiences in developing their individual and team emotional intelligence skills. Finally, a common desire was expressed to grow emotional intelligence skills, integrate play more into the work environment, and build the high performing, playful, and healthy organizational culture they desire. The contribution this study makes is important to allow future researchers to gather and examine additional evidence to support the relationship between play, emotional intelligence skill development, and leadership success.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; Emotional intelligence; Leadership -- Psychological aspects; College administrators -- United States; Universities and colleges -- United States -- Administration

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Schmieder-Ramirez, June;