Dr. Shirin Ebadi was the first female Muslim judge to practice in Iran, is a human rights activist, and recipient of the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize (Ebadi, 2003). At times called a “woman of steel,” Ebadi risks her life and freedom as she diligently promotes peace, democracy, and human rights particularly for women and children, through her voice in Iran and throughout the world,. Ebadi received the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts related to protecting the rights of individuals and groups trapped in a system of power stemming from Islamic law (Davis & Selvidge, 2006; Ebadi & Moaveni, 2006; Stiehm, 2006). Ebadi is a female world leader as evidenced by her life's work and being awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. To date, however, there is no scholarly literature focused on an in-depth comparative analysis of Ebadi’s leadership style, specifically in documented studies utilizing the theoretical framework of the Trait Approach and Skills Approach leadership styles (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding, Jacobs, & Fleishman, 2000a; Zaccaro, Kemp, & Bader, 2004). This dissertation was a qualitative case study to determine the leadership style of Ebadi through a comparative analysis of the Trait Approach and Skills Approach leadership styles (Mumford, Zaccaro, Harding et al., 2000, Zaccaro et al., 2004) as the theoretical framework. Publicly-available information was qualitatively analyzed using descriptive coding (Saldaña, 2013) to determine her leadership style. Based solely on the number of occurrences of characteristics alone, Ebadi’s leadership style falls under the Skills Approach, however, there was a significant number of leadership characteristics occurring under the Trait Approach that could not be overlooked in terms of importance. Therefore, it was determined Ebadi exhibited significant characteristics under both leadership styles, and her leadership style was found to be a hybrid of the Trait Approach and the Skills Approach. Much can be learned from studying Ebadi’s leadership style and related characteristics. First, findings could serve to benefit other female leaders attempting to advance social causes. Second, findings contributed to the overlooked area of documented research on Ebadi’s leadership style and complement existing literature on leadership in the areas of Trait Approach and Skills Approach styles. Third, as a practical application, organizations may use the findings of this study to implement trait and skills’ assessment practices in the workplace to determine characteristics important for employee leadership positions.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; Leadership -- Case studies; Women judges -- Iran; Women human rights workers -- Iran; Nobel Prize winners

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

DellaNeve, James;