This article is a reflection on eight, then seven, now five women’s collaborative efforts to explore the development of our own leader identities. While each of us conducts research on women and leadership, we are a diverse group of women: we were born in three different countries (United States, Paraguay, and New Zealand) and currently live in three different countries (United States, Canada, and New Zealand). We are of diverse races, sexual orientations, and generations; we have leadership experiences in a variety of disciplines and industries; and we vary in the priority we place on this study. In this paper, we review our experiences conducting research during the first three plus years of our collaborative autoethnographic study and share what we learned from those experiences. We address previously published considerations for developing collaborative autoethnographies including: the number of participants involved; the extent of involvement of the participants and the level of collaboration during the study; the collaborative approaches used in the study; and the approaches to writing. We add a reflection on our leadership practices throughout the study and on the confidentiality challenges that emerged. We also discuss how our division of the study into multiple life stages and multiple projects within the life stages has influenced our experiences and how the challenges resulting from the long duration of our study have influenced our productivity and are expected to influence our future plans. Our lessons learned should prove useful as other autoethnographic research groups begin their own research processes.


Collaborative Autoethnography, Women and Leadership, Leader Identity Development, Participant Confidentiality

Author Bio(s)

Lynne E. Devnew teaches leadership as an associate faculty member in the practitioner-doctorate programs of the University of Phoenix and is a distinguished research fellow in their Center for Leadership Studies and Educational Research responsible for the Women and Leadership Research Group. She is a former senior mid-level manager at IBM, where she was among the first women to manage professionals. She has degrees from Simmons College and Columbia University’s Master Degree Program for Executives, and earned her DBA in Strategy from Boston University. She has redefined her leadership identity multiple times as she assumed greater responsibilities and changed industries and professions. Correspondence regarding this article can be addressed directly to: lynne.devnew@gmail.com.

Ann M. Berghout Austin, Ph.D., is Professor of Child Development at Utah State University and founding director of the new academic unit, Center for Women and Gender where she teaches leadership classes. She is the executive director of Care about Child Care and the Child Care Professional Development Institute, initiatives designed to promote the professional development of childcare providers in Utah. In Paraguay she worked on a countrywide project focusing on the empowerment of rural mothers. She has served as major professor for more than 50 masters and doctoral students and has brought almost $20,000,000 in external grants to USU. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: ann.austin@usu.edu.

Marlene Janzen Le Ber is Associate Professor and Chair, School of Leadership & Social Change at Canada’s only women’s university, Brescia University College and Adjunct Research Professor, Ian O. Ihnatowycz Institute for Leadership at Ivey School of Business, Western University. Her teaching is all leadership related: Women and Leadership, Positive Organizational Scholarship, Leader Character, Giving Voice to Values, and Spirituality and Leadership. A multiple research grant holder in the complex processes of leadership, her current research is in leader character, leader identity development in women, and impact of art-based and narrative research on policy and social change. Prior to her doctoral studies, Marlene was a health care executive within academic health sciences centers, known as a strategic leader who spearheaded numerous health system innovations. Marlene has a PhD (Strategy) from Ivey Business School, MScN (Admin) and BScN from Western University. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: mleber@uwo.ca.

Judith Babcock LaValley is a doctoral candidate at Kansas State University. Her research examines constructs at the intersection of culture and leadership, including leader development, leader identity, and gender and leadership. Ms. LaValley is a former U.S. Air Force pilot and master parachutist who has conducted behavioral science research for RAND and the Army Research Institute (ARI). She has graduate degrees in organizational behavior, security studies, and industrial/organizational psychology, and has conducted leader development training in the military and nonprofit sectors. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: judy.lavalley@gmail.com.

Dr. Chanda D. Elbert is an Associate Professor in the Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education, and Communications at Texas A&M University, College Station, Texas. She has developed and taught university courses in Leadership Theory, Women’s Leadership, and Multicultural Leadership to both undergraduate and graduate students. She was recently honored for her work focusing on women from the Women’s Progress Awards at Texas A&M University. Correspondence regarding this article can also be addressed directly to: celbert@tamu.edu.


Other participants in Stage 1 and Stage 2 of this study were Dr. Lorri L. Sulpizio, University of San Diego; and Dr. Marianne Tremaine, Massey University. The additional participant in Stage 1 was Dr. Anastasia Metros, University of Phoenix.

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