Posts Tagged With: Qualitative

Hike Leadership Forward – Qualitative and Quantitative

I have had the privilege of working with doctoral student as they have embarked upon the journey of writing their dissertations. There are two basic methodologies for conducting scientific research: quantitative research and qualitative research. Quantitative research is shallow but wide; qualitative research is deep, but narrow.

In quantitative research the researcher looks at a limited number of variables (salaries and longevity for example) and surveys as many people as possible within the organization (the entire workforce if possible) and sees if there is a statistically significant correlation between the salaries being paid the employees and the number of years that employees stay with the organization.     

In qualitative research the researcher might zero in on a small number of employees (assistant managers) and interviews each of them around a topic or a phenomenon (like how assistant managers balance the demands of the direct reports while leading others within the department). Qualitative research typically uses open-ended interview questions to gather the specific answers from the participants.

Effective leadership must have both quantitative and qualitative characteristics. Let’s go just a bit deeper into these two ideas and explore the leadership attitudes and actions exemplified by both.

Quantitative leadership looks at the big picture within the organization as a whole. This aspect of leadership wants to see the forest, the tapestry, and the health of the entire population that is touched within the organization. Quantitative leadership attempts to see potential cause and effect relationships; systemic synapses that impact the mission; the power of one variable to change the climate and culture of the company. The quantitative leader is interested in everyone’s opinion and desire to count every hand, hear every voice, consider every perspective.  

On the other hand, qualitative leadership probes deeply into a critical question facing the organization. The personal stories of a selective sample within the organization is the target of the inquiries. The richer the back stories and personal life experiences of the participants, the more meaningful the data will be to the leader. Qualitative leadership involves diving deep into the actions and behaviors of a selected group in order to understand the mindset, the morale, the challenges, the benefits, and the dreams of the sample.

In scholarly studies, there is also the combination of quantitative and qualitative research called mixed methods. Researchers combine a big picture view of major variables a the deep excavation into a specific area of concern. Good leaders must have both Q’s firmly in place as they oversee the organization. The quantitative leader must constantly be flying over the forest to get a fresh look at the overall movement of the company. It is so easy to go down rabbit trails, and waste value time on an insignificant issue, if the leader does not keep the big picture clearly in sight and know what elements play the most impactful roles in accomplishing the mission of the organization.

On the other hand, the qualitative leader must know his/her people and understand the unique challenges that face the generals, the lieutenants, the sergeants, and the privates in the company. The qualitative leader strives to know how each group of stakeholders views and interacts with the goals and ministry of the organization. Spending time interviewing, evaluating, networking, and analyzing the needs of various groups that make up the whole is a critical role of an effective leader.  It is equally easy to miss the critical needs of a small group when the leader is always flying at tree top level. Both Q’s are important and striving for a good balance between the two is a key to effective leadership.

Photos: Dissertation – The Rough Collection; Quantitative Big Picture – The Rough Collection; Qualitative interview – Qualitative research: 3 types of interview to choose from (

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