Alone and Unafraid: Observations on Functional Leader Intervention in Decentralized Organizations

Date of Award

Spring 2015

Author Requested Restriction

Open Access (no embargo, no restriction)

Work Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (MAIS)


Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Stephen J. Ross

Second Advisor

Jill M. Purdy

Third Advisor

Emily Noelle Sanchez Ignacio


Today’s organizations whether political, non-profit, or commercial have adjusted their way of thinking to fit the twenty-first century’s atmosphere of instantaneous information and shifting market places. As such these organizations have had to adapt and rapidly adjust in this fluid space becoming more decentralized in their characteristics, entrusting crucial decisions to empowered leaders at lower levels in order to affect change and react to shifting conditions quickly. However, when, where, why, and how these newly empowered leaders choose to act is not well understood. This project addresses this void in the literature by attempting to help understand under what circumstances, at what points, at what times, and how in a decentralized organizations’ process can leaders most effectively assert their authority so as to increase goal and task success. An exploratory observational study of a small startup company structured as a iv decentralized business model was conducted to garner insights to inform our understanding of these issues and aid in building follow-up hypotheses. The participants were a high functioning team of twelve individuals: One manager, two section leaders and nine team members. The study employed a participatory observational inductive ethnography in which I shadowed a lead manager and made observations on coaching and leadership interventions. In this thesis, I provide a brief discussion on the reasoning and nature of the leadership interventions observed. These observations were then evaluated to determine where the interventions occurred, the leader’s reasons for intervening, the form of the intervention, and the overall evaluation of the intervention by the team members. Themes related to the leader’s intervention style were also identified. This will provide context, nuance, and rationale for the assertion of leader authority.