Diana M. Cooley, Ph.D. is a 2008 graduate of the PHD Program in Leadership and Change at Antioch University.

Dissertation Committee

  • Carolyn Kenny, Ph.D., Committee Chair
  • Laurien Alexandre, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Philomena Essed, Ph.D., Committee Member
  • Pamela Hays, Ph.D., External Reader


inner voice, self leadership, women, midlife, autoethnography, story telling, intrapersonal communication, narratives, leadership

Document Type


Publication Date



My research explores an aspect of leadership that is personal, which is the inner voice of self-leadership. The inner voice affects all aspects of leadership. The inner voice is highly personal in that one’s private thoughts are unique. The inner voice can increase one’s self-awareness and influence one to move forward and change or to pull one back to stand still. My thesis is that we can more fully understand how women leaders lead themselves and subsequently lead in society if we advance our understanding of their stories and experiences regarding the inner voice. This research improves our understanding of women’s experiences listening to their inner voices and how this listening allows them to become leaders of themselves and move beyond challenges in order to transform their lives and potentially the lives of those around them. For the purpose of this dissertation, I define the inner voice as an awareness of self that comes from the interaction with, and internalization of, the influences of others and the environment. The inner voice is a complex phenomenon that involves one’s internal thought processes that ultimately influence how one sees the world, acts and reacts to events and circumstances outside of the self. My study is composed of five narratives. My participants range in age from 54 to 65 years of age. They are women who were influenced by their mothers, significant others and specific events that created challenges, tested their character and required them to listen to their inner voices in order make tough choices about the direction of their lives and subsequent leadership initiatives. Their stories, along with my autoethnography, provide a portal to understand the importance of the inner voice and its association to self-leadership. The interpretive essay in Chapter 6 takes into consideration my thesis in light of themes which emerged from the literature, the results of my interviews with participants and my autoethnography. This study fills an important gap in the leadership literature. Because current literature focuses primarily on the characteristics and traits of a leader, it does not address the importance of leading the self and how self-leadership is affected by the inner voice. The stories of the participants bring attention to the voices of women, how they lead themselves, and how their self-leadership influences others through the decisions and actions they take. This electronic version of this dissertation is at OhioLINK ETD Center,