Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies


Organization & Leadership EdD

First Advisor

Patricia Mitchell

Second Advisor

Walter Gmelch

Third Advisor

Richard Johnson III


With the rapid changes occurring in Saudi Arabia toward achieving Saudi’s 2030 vision, more opportunities and developments will emerge in education and leadership, as one of the main orientations of the vision. The Ministry of Higher Education in Saudi Arabia seeks to raise the quality of higher education and its features to provide outputs that contribute to serving the community and economic development. Responding to the requirements of the labor market, the Ministry of Higher Education is seeking to make higher education in Saudi Arabia competitive with higher education systems in other developed countries. Thus, improving leadership in higher education institutions has become more essential than ever. This study explored the perceptions of higher education leaders on servant leadership as a leadership style. It also aimed to define their practices of authority and power as a significant pillar of servant leadership.

A qualitative method was used to collect and analyze the data for this study. Ten department chairs from various regions of Saudi Arabia were interviewed to gain their perspectives and stories regarding their practice of servant leadership. The interviews were digitally recorded and transcribed, then coded and analyzed with Dedoose web-based qualitative data-analysis software. The major findings from this study emerged around the five main themes that answered the five research questions: experience of leadership, characteristics of servant leadership, service, authority and power, and challenges of applying servant leadership in Saudi Arabia.

One major finding of this study was that Saudi higher education leaders lack leadership education and training. They were unfamiliar with various leadership styles in general, and the term servant leadership in particular. Findings also demonstrated a tight link between servant leadership and Islamic principles, as Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him) embraced the leadership approach that puts people and their needs as a top priority. The findings clearly indicated that Saudi higher education leaders use formal authority and still perceive formal authority as a major controlling element. Formal authority and moral authority complement each other. More importantly, servant leadership is an appropriate method of leadership to be applied in higher education institutions in Saudi Arabia. However, shifting from a traditional style of leadership that relies on authority to servant leadership needs to be gradual to reduce potential risks as a result of this significant transition.


Title in Arabic: تصورات قادة التعليم العالي بالمملكة العربية السعودية للقيادة الخادمة: استخدام السلطة والقوة