A Taxonomy of Leadership Situations: Development, Validation, and Implications for the Science and Practice of Leadership

Jennifer P. Green

Major Professor: Reeshad S. Dalal, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Stephen Zaccaro, Michelle Marks, Dan Putka

Merten Hall (formerly University Hall), #5108
April 27, 2020, 01:30 PM to 03:30 AM


The situation plays an important role in leadership. Yet, the treatment of the situation in extant leadership theories and empirical research is rudimentary, fragmented, and non-comprehensive. This research used situation ratings and narratives from 1,157 leaders to empirically develop a taxonomy of leadership situations that contains both psychological and structural characteristics. Natural language processing techniques were used to generate the population of psychological situation characteristics that were then rated by leaders. Factor analyses and topic modeling of leader ratings and narratives, respectively, revealed six psychological dimensions (Positivity, Importance, Negativity, Scope, Frequency, Ease) and six structural types (Strategic, Problematic, Supportive, Time-pressure, Team-focused, Logistical) of leadership situations. The applicability of the taxonomy across momentary and chronic situations, leadership levels, and leader gender was explored. Results revealed equivalent taxonomy structures across these groups but suggested mean differences in the relevance and prevalence of certain psychological dimensions and structural types of leadership situations. To facilitate the measurement of leadership situations in future research, I developed and validated a 27-item measure of the six psychological dimensions of leadership situations. This taxonomy provides not only an organizing framework for the extant leadership research literature but also an impetus and a foundation for future research testing situation-related leadership hypotheses. The taxonomy additionally has important practical implications in areas such as leader assessment and development.