Leaders in higher education increasingly face a number of challenges. One of the challenges is the high attrition rate of doctoral students enrolled in online programs, many of whom cite the lack of social presence as the reason for dropping out. The qualitative phenomenological study explored the perceptions and lived experiences of online doctoral students to determine how social presence develops. The present research revealed four emerging themes that describe the development of social presence in the asynchronous online learning environment. The emerging themes were writing skill, content and requirements, building relationships, and interaction. The themes offered information to leaders in education and business that may assist in developing online education programs, and virtual work teams.