Toward a Substantive Theory of Leadership Status Attachment in High-Level Executives as Affected by Job Displacement: A Grounded Theory Analysis

Date of Submission


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Science in Management Systems (Sc.D.)




David Morris

Committee Member

Robert Dugan

Committee Member

Allen Sack

LC Subject Headings

Executives--Dismissal of--United States, Executives--United States--Social conditions, Executives--Psychology

Call No. at the Univ. of New Haven Library

AS 36 N290 Mgmt. Syst. 1996 no.5


The purpose of this study was to examine the concept of status attachment, which is postulated as being a predilection for maintaining a particular career role. The study was designed to gather data on the cognitive, social, and career adjustments that executives make after being displaced from top leadership positions, and to identify patterns in these adjustments that could relate back to status attachment. The rise in organizational downsizing across industries in the past few years made this study especially timely.

The qualitative research approach known as grounded theory was selected for three reasons: (1) the phenomena of status attachment as conceptualized by the researcher was not well explicated in the extant literature; (2) studies concerning the coping adjustments to job loss of the specific subgroup selected—corporate leaders—were quite meager; and (3) isolating high-level leaders in rigidly controlled experimental conditions would be very difficult.

Thirty-five high-level U.S. executives who had been displaced from their previous position for less than three years were interviewed using a semi-standardized research instrument. Several factors relating to the individual job loss experience identified in the extant literature served as a guide to building this instrument and were combined with other factors relating specifically to the leadership experience.

Computer-based qualitative data analysis yielded twenty-one general response patterns, while analytic comparison methods refined these patterns into variable associations under two major themes: (1) the degree of difficulty encountered in the job displacement process; and (2) the perception of re-employment opportunities. The resulting variable associations gave rise to a conceptual framework of leadership re-employment preferences. Nineteen propositions are suggested for the further testing of the status attachment concept, and follow-up research recommendations are also offered.