This study investigates the usefulness of the personality theories of Karen Horney in leadership development. The Horney concepts examined are: (a) the basic anxiety, (b) the real and idealized self, (c) the self-defeating cycle, and (d) the three movements of people. The research questions guiding this inquiry are: Will professionals who are willing to develop their leadership capabilities find the theories of Karen Horney useful in that pursuit? How can these concepts contribute to deeper self-awareness? How can deeper self-awareness generated from these concepts influence a leader's development? The literature review indicates that Karen Horney's concepts are used by leadership development practitioners but not being taught to leaders. The concepts are introduced in a 1-day workshop, which allows a group of volunteer leaders to experience and explore the concepts in a safe learning environment. Volunteers then contract to use at least 1 Horney concept for 2 weeks on the job and report their results via a semistructured interview. Interview data along with data collected from written postworkshop course evaluations are analyzed using a 6-step qualitative method. While there is much written on what to practice and learn to become a leader, there is not much written about the forces that prevent leadership growth and development, how to recognize them, and what to do about them. The findings from this study break some new ground in the usefulness of this approach in leadership development research. This research furthers the knowledge and understanding of leadership by introducing a way of understanding the emotional drivers that help and hinder leadership development. The research demonstrates that the concepts of Karen Horney can be used as a sense making framework for self-reflection and self-understanding that exposes the unconscious forces that prevent leadership growth. By doing so, aspiring leaders, in addition to dealing with the outside, tangible obstacles to their leadership development, could also identify the internal obstacles, the forces that operate out of their awareness that are not so obvious, that prevent leadership growth.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Dissertations (EdD) -- Organizational leadership; Leadership; Horney, Karen, 1885-1952

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Nero, Susan