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Harnessing Emotions: The Critical Role of Emotional Intelligence for Community College Leaders

Lauren E. Hibbs, University of Washington Tacoma
Valerie Sundby-Thorp, University of Washington Tacoma


More than ten million students are enrolled each year in public two-year colleges in the United States. Community colleges are faced with unprecedented accountability for student progression and completion. In Washington State, the work of academic and student services deans is critical to the success of public two-year colleges. Mayer and Salovey’s (1997) ability model of emotional intelligence and the related work of Goleman (1998), and Mayer, Salovey, and Caruso (2008) suggest that the development of emotional intelligence has the potential to positively impact the effectiveness of these community college leaders. This study asks broadly, what are the perceptions, beliefs, and attitudes of Washington State community college deans about emotional intelligence? Forty-five percent (45%) of Washington State academic and student services deans participated in this study. Both quantitative and qualitative survey approaches were used to investigate frequency and level of importance placed on four domains of emotional intelligence: perceiving, facilitating, understanding, and managing emotions. Results indicate that deans place significant importance on each of the four ability domains, but the importance they place on each domain is not parallel to the frequency with which they demonstrate behaviors in each domain. Implications for future research and practice, as well as potential limitations, are discussed.