Competitive Team Environments and Student Leader Capacity Growth

We conducted a national study of the Collegiate Leadership Competition (CLC), which since inception in 2015, has included over 75 higher education institutions. The CLC brings students together in collaborative institution-based teams to compete with other teams in competitions to achieve goals and practice effective leadership skills. Our goal was to assess leadership capacity growth over the course of a four-month team practice period through the daylong inter-team competition and evaluate participant leadership assessed several months later. Results suggested students made significant and sustainable gains in leader-self-efficacy and short-term gains in leadership skill and motivation to lead. Our results also indicated the team’s coach played a significant role in student leadership development.

Leadership development programs for students in educational settings are proliferating in number and design. Curricular programs range from academic minors and certificates to doctoral programs in a variety of academic homes (e.g., education, business, healthcare). Co-curricular programs often take the form of drop-in workshops, day-long experiences, alternative spring breaks, service-learning trips, and other programs housed in student affairs and administrative offices (Guthrie & Jenkins, 2018). Moreover, the number of programs has steadily increased over the last 15 years from just under 1,000 in 2006 (Brungardt, et al., 2006) to more than 2,000 (ILA Program Directory, 2021). And while there is some commonality among the approach of these leadership programs in terms of content and delivery (see Harvey & Jenkins, 2014), vast differences exist in the structure and learning goals of student leadership programs compared to other social science disciplines. A potentially fruitful area in which to explore its effectiveness in supporting leadership development is the environment of competitive teams, where individuals work together as a group to compete against other teams. The purpose of our research was to investigate the degree to which such a competitive environment might support or detract from student leadership group, employing a potentially effective example of a formal program that utilizes the innovative approach of team competitions to motivate learning (the CLC).