Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (EdD)


Education Systems Improvement Science

Committee Chair/Advisor

Dr. Noelle A. Paufler

Committee Member

Dr. Mason Gary

Committee Member

Dr. Hans W. Klar

Committee Member

Dr. Daniella Hall Sutherland


A rural superintendent is a community figure who is responsible for meeting the needs of students, families, teachers, community stakeholders, and school boards. The superintendent's job is complicated. It has been stated that career superintendency in a single district is extremely rare, and turnover is among the highest in the education field (Chingos et al., 2014). The rural, mid-size public school district in this study was not immune to this problem, with many seasoned leaders on the cusp of retirement. Of the 30 district and school administrators currently employed in the district, including the superintendent, 20 of these leaders are eligible for retirement in the next five years. Likely retirees constitute 67% of the administrators now serving slightly fewer than 20,000 students in the district. Within an organization, people rather than financial capital or other assets are the most vital resource (Bolman & Deal, 2017). For school districts facing the imminent loss of experienced leaders, modeling the inverted pyramid to foster servant leadership characteristics is critical to serving students and their school communities.

The purpose of this exploratory study was to use improvement science to better understand how modeling the inverted pyramid fosters servant leadership characteristics (Greenleaf, 1977; Spears, 1995, 2003, 2010; Spears & Lawrence, 2002, 2016) in the district. In this study, I addressed the following research question: How does modeling the inverted pyramid foster servant leadership characteristics?

As I employed qualitative data from interviews and district documents, I used the inverted pyramid and Page and Wong's (2000) Multidimensional Model (2000) to build a conceptual framework for the critical leadership practice I addressed in this study. An inverted pyramid is an approach that organizations place workers at the top and leaders at the bottom (Blanchard, 2018). When the organization's pyramid is upside down, leaders work for people within the organization (Blanchard, 2018). This one change makes a significant difference. In the traditional pyramid, the leader was always responsible, and the staff was usually responsive to the leader. Now with the pyramid inverted; the roles get reversed. As leaders, it is their job to help them win (Blanchard, 2018). Page and Wong’s (2000) Multidimensional Model was developed to understand that a servant leader had a primary purpose for leading to serve others by investing in their development and well-being for the organization's benefit (Franklin, 2010). In this study, I completed a total of 10 interviews with participants that had experienced the implementation of the inverted pyramid for at least three years. I studied district documents to triangulate the data from the interviews to build a coherent justification for themes (Creswell & Creswell, 2017). Study findings support potential future interventions to meet this district’s macro goal of using improvement science tools to develop leaders by modeling the inverted pyramid and fostering servant leadership characteristics in the district (Bryk et al., 2015).

Author ORCID Identifier


Available for download on Thursday, August 31, 2023