Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Wheel of innovation: How leaders' attitudes and behaviors drive disruptive technology in the U.S. Navy
by Witzel, Eddy Wayne, Ph.D., Andrews University, 2014, 203; 3615627
Abstract (Summary)

Problem and Purpose

Innovative solutions in national defense are needed to respond to national security threats in our uncertain environment. Leader attitudes and behaviors have a substantial impact on innovation. Unfortunately we did not completely understand the effect of leader attitudes and behaviors on innovation and the team dynamics that lead to innovation, especially in the military. The purpose of this study was to determine how leadership attitudes and behaviors contribute to product innovation within the U.S. Navy and how leadership emerges within this complex adaptive system of innovation.


The research was a qualitative design based on a multiple or comparative case study. A theoretical/conceptual framework of complexity leadership theory was used as a meso model to understand adaptive innovative processes at work in the context of bureaucratic forms of organizing.

Three teams based on three product innovations were selected because they demonstrated breakthrough innovation with disruptive technology and successfully fielded their capabilities within cost and schedule thresholds.

Data from three project teams were collected using interviews, focus groups, and program documentation. Eighteen individuals participated in interviews and focus groups. The attitudes and behaviors of nine formal leaders and several emerging leaders were analyzed and evaluated. The results were summarized in six different themes that were apparent across all three projects and multiple leaders.


These six themes were a combination of leader attitudes and behaviors that contributed to the success of the three projects. These attitudes and behaviors were observed at all levels of the organization from the program manager, to the IPT leaders, to the engineers getting the job done. The first theme was urgency driven by a heartfelt need. The second theme was that these leaders would listen and were open to ideas. The third theme was to know the process and challenge the process while managing risk and ensuring it is good enough. The fourth theme was vision, passion, assertive, persistence, and moderating setbacks. The fifth theme was trusted leader with credibility, integrity, and was professional. The last theme was collaboration, teamwork, and recognition. Communication was apparent throughout all the themes and links them together.


The attitudes and behaviors of the leaders in this study contributed to the innovation by keeping the polarity within these themes in creative tension. The leaders established a strong sense of urgency based on a heartfelt need while also creating an atmosphere and practice of making sure everyone had a voice and their voice counted. The leaders were professional with credibility and integrity. They knew the process, but also challenged the process, managed risk, and encouraged a solution that was good enough. The leaders were passionate about the vision and were assertive and persistent in removing obstacles. But they also encouraged collaboration and teamwork. They moderated setbacks and prevented the team from getting discouraged and took opportunities to recognize the team both informally and formally. These leader attitudes and behaviors contributed toward leaders emerging in the organization.

A wheel of innovation is proposed that demonstrates the themes in a synergistic and balanced approach. While this improved our understanding of how leader attitudes and behaviors drive innovation, there are still significant areas for further study. Further case studies are needed to determine if this wheel of innovation is applicable outside of the U.S. Navy. Quantitative studies based on these findings are needed to expand the understanding and generalizability of the model.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Freed, Shirley A.
Commitee: Covrig, Duane M., Owen, Mark M.
School: Andrews University
Department: School of Education
School Location: United States -- Michigan
Source: DAI-A 75/07(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Entrepreneurship, Educational leadership, Organizational behavior, Military studies
Keywords: Attitudes, Behaviors, Breakthrough, Innovation, Leadership, Military
Publication Number: 3615627
ISBN: 978-1-303-81700-7
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