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The Case for Mixed Methods Leadership Research

Mixed methods research is defined as “research where the researcher mixes or combines quantitative and qualitative research techniques, methods, approaches, concepts or language into a single study”  (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004, p. 17).  Both quantitative and qualitative research has advantages and disadvantages.  Even so, when selecting which method to use, the research questions should drive the research methodology (Johnson & Onwuegbuzie, 2004; Teddlie & Tashakkori, 2009).  The fundamental argument for using a mixed methods approach for reasearching the social process of leadership is that both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies provides a better understanding of the research problem than using either approach independently (Greene, 2007; Creswell & Plano-Clark, 2011).

In a leadership development context, a purely quantitative approach might not provide a full explanation of outcomes, and, therefore, qualitative data can be used to enrich, further interpret, and explain quantitative results (Gardner, Lowe, Moss, Mahoney, & Cogliser, 2010).  Stentz, Plano Clark, and Matkin (2012) posit that the application of multiple research approaches is needed to understand the complex processes involved in leader and leadership development.

In the study of leadership, one advantage of combining methods is that neither quantitative nor qualitative methods are adequate by themselves to capture the complex, multi-level, and socially constructed processes of leadership (Gardner, et al., 2010). Furthermore, Greene (2007) suggests mixed methods designs can yield richer, more valid, and more reliable findings than evaluations based on either the qualitative or quantitative methodologies alone.  This is in part because the combination of data provides a more complete and complementary understanding of the phenomena (Ivankoka, Creswell, & Stick, 2006).  A mixed methods approach can also “take advantage of the combined strengths of one method to overcome the weaknesses of another” (Ary, et al., 2010, p. 567).

Leadership is a complex socially-embedded process; as such, it should be examined and studied using multiple methodologies to provide the best possible understanding of the phenomenon.

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