Al Barkouli, Ph.D. is a 2015 graduate of the PhD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dr. Barkouli with Dissertation Committee members at his Dissertation Defense, Santa Barbara, May 2015

Left to Right : Dr. Jon Wergin, Committee Member, Dr. Al Guskin, Chair, Dr. Al Barkouli, Dr. Philomena Essed, Committee Member

Dissertation Committee:

  • Alan Guskin, Ph.D., Chair
  • Jon Wergin, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Philomena, Essed, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Michael Bassis, Ph.D., External Reader


critical incident technique, CIT, fear, fear-related emotions, uncertainty, complexity, leaders, leadership, decision making, relationship with followers, health, well-being, chief executive officers, organizations, complex adaptive leadership

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This study used the Critical Incident Technique (CIT) to better understand how organizational leaders experienced fear-related emotions. Through semi-structured interviews, fifteen executive leaders, mainly chief executive officers (CEOs), shared their experiences in response to threatening, risky, or dangerous incidents. In addition to a phenomenological understanding of the experience, participants illuminated the role that fear-related emotions play in leader decisions, how these emotions influence leader-follower relationships, the impacts of fear-related emotions on leaders’ health and well-being, and the ways leaders managed their experience with fear-related emotions including the role courage played. Leaders often faced threats, risks, or dangers (stimuli) from within the organization itself and from the external organizational environment. The fear of not-knowing enough or not being good enough (self-doubt) and the fear of loss that often accompanies change were experienced the most by these leaders. The participants decided between a fear-focused (maladaptive) strategy and an incident-focused (adaptive) strategy when they were susceptible to a threatening, risky or dangerous stimulus. Leader efficacy was the key to a leader’s choice, where strong leader efficacy resulted in adaptive decisions and weak leader efficacy resulted in maladaptive ones. In the follower-leader relationship, the participants often suppressed their fear-related emotions by using surface or deep acting, which at times affected leader authenticity and trust. Leaders experienced serious to mild health and well-being effects as a result of the emotional experience, while leaders who used suppression techniques experienced more serious health impacts. Supportive relationships, practicing mindfulness, and a leader’s personal courage, including the courage to be emotionally vulnerable, played an important role in how leaders managed fear-related emotions. This study has important implications to both leaders and leadership. Using complexity leadership framework, this study provides a better understanding of the risks, dangers and threats within the leadership context and how fear-related emotions can influence leaders and the leadership process including decision making, relationships with followers and the health and well-being of leaders. This study also highlights the important role leader efficacy plays especially when dealing with complex adaptive challenges. This dissertation is available in open access at AURA and OhioLink ETD Center


Dr. Al Barkouli

Al Barkouli, P.E., Ph.D. is the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of David Evans and Associates, Inc. (DEA). DEA is a professional consulting services firm of over 900 employees headquartered in Portland, Oregon and ranked as one of the Top 500 Design Firms in the United States. He is a professional engineer and alum of Portland State University.

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