Journal of Educational Leadership in Action


This article explores tolerance of ambiguity and its effect on change resistance from the perception of new higher education presidents who often feel overwhelmed by the level of perceived resistance while they learn a new environment. Two separate yet complementary studies were compared for resistance to change: one qualitative and one quantitative. The qualitative study used a phenomenological approach to explore a new higher education leaders’ perspective of facing resistance during the change process. The quantitative study examined the 36-question survey results of individual higher education employees affected by higher education change. The intersection of the two studies explored, through different lenses, how leaders face perceived resistance versus how employees perceive change and then exhibit resistant-like behavior. Results included that the majority of higher education employees were intolerant to ambiguity, and that uncertainty due to new leadership exacerbated this condition. The authors argued against the prevailing advice of putting vision delivery on hold. Rather, the authors recommend that new leaders clearly communicate the vision formation process while maintaining intentional and transparent collaboration with the community.


Christopher A. Gearin, Ed.D., School of Education, Maryville University, is the Director of Higher Education Leadership and Assistant Professor at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri. He is a former college president, and his research interests include leadership development and transition, diversity, and organizational change.

Brian Dunican, Ed.D., School of Education, Western Kentucky University, is the President of the Center for Innovation and Influence in the Greater Cincinnati area and a member on the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. His research focuses on leadership and organizational change.

Jason Castles, Ed.D., School of Education, Maryville University, is an Assistant Professor of Higher Education Leadership at Maryville University in St. Louis, Missouri. His research focuses on intercultural competence development and organizational change.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-Share Alike 4.0 International License.