Leadership Identity Development: Challenges in Applying a Developmental Model
As any discipline develops it codifies a body of knowledge including theoretical frames, models of practice, as well as related measurement and assessment strategies for both program and individual effectiveness. The field of leadership studies includes a strong sense of historical evolution (Burns, 1978; Rost, 1991), theoretical frames that represent diverse approaches and philosophies of leadership (e.g., leader-member exchange, transforming leadership, authentic leadership), measures for extant theories and models (e.g., the Leadership Practices Inventory, the Multi-Factor Leadership Questionnaire, the Socially Responsible Leadership Scale), identification of outcomes of leadership (e.g., effectiveness, productivity, group morale), contextually based applications (e.g., military, education, business, politics), and pedagogical strategies for developing leadership (e.g., case studies, academic courses). Although leadership research has attended to the development of leadership capacity often for specific groups of people such as women, youth, or business executives, far less attention has been devoted to leadership development across an individual’s lifespan (Avolio & Gibbons, 1988; Brungardt, 1996; Drath, 1998; Lord & Hall, 2005; Murphy & Reichard, in press) or to an individual’s development of a leadership self-concept or identity (van Knippenberg, B., van Kippenberg, D., De Cremer, & Hogg, 2005). Gibbons (1986) early work to identify the kind of life span learning that served as antecedents to transforming leadership held promise for this inquiry (as cited in Avolio & Gibbons). Theoretical frames and research that promote understanding of leadership development across the life span will greatly aid intentional leadership development interventions (e.g., Avolio, 2005; Komives, Owen, Longerbeam, Mainella, & Osteen, 2005; Murphy & Reichard). Leadership life span development is enriched by recent studies conceptualizing “leader” as a social identity as perceived by the self and others (Lord & Brown, 2004; Lord & Hall; Ruderman & Ernst, 2004; van Knippenberg, B., et al.). Indeed, “Identity is probably the most important aspect of leader…development” (Hall, 2004, p. 154).
In this article, we overview our 2001-2002 research that led to the leadership identity development (LID) theory (Komives, et al., 2005) and present the leadership identity development model (Komives, Longerbeam, Owen, Mainella, & Osteen, 2006) derived from examining the life experience of college students. We then integrate the LID theory with other developmental theories that focus on college students including perspectives on LID as a social identity and how it may relate to other social identities. Finally, we explore the challenges and promises of applying any developmental theory to individual students including measuring LID as a developmental theory. The article also presents how students may develop their leadership identity in student organizations, in courses, and curricular programs along with challenges in those applications. Applications of LID to support the development of leadership self-efficacy (Bandura, 1997; Denzine, 1999; Pearlmutter, 1999) are also included. We conclude with recommendations for leadership education.
Leadership Identity Development Theory
The relational leadership model presented in Exploring Leadership (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 1998, 2007) focused on leadership being purposeful, inclusive, empowering, ethical, and process-oriented. Designed as a post- industrial, collaborative model to teach and develop leadership in college students, this approach emphasized leadership as “a relational and ethical process of people together attempting to accomplish positive change” (Komives, et al., 2007, p. 74). Observing that some students self-identified as leaders and were very comfortable engaging in inclusive, collaborative group processes whether in positional or non-positional roles, our research team sought to understand how this kind of relational leadership developed and how one’s sense of self and attitudes about leadership changed over time.
We used grounded theory methodology (Merriam & Associates, 2002; Strauss & Corbin, 1998) and sought campus experts who observed college students engaging with others to nominate students who evidenced the non-hierarchical practices of the relational leadership model. This intensity sampling led to a diverse group of 13 students who participated in the research. Each participant engaged in three individual interviews with a research team member using the life narrative method (Riessman, 1993; Seidman, 1991; Shamir & Eilam, 2005). Data were analyzed using a constant comparative method employing standard coding procedures (Strauss & Corbin). For more detail on this research see Komives et al. (2005).
The emergent grounded theory was comprised of the key category of leadership identity which included five leadership identity stages and incorporated five related categories. The key category included the stages of:
- Awareness (Stage One): becoming aware that there are leaders “out there” who are external to self like the President of the United States, one’s mother, or a teacher;
- Exploration/Engagement (Stage Two): a period of immersion in group experiences usually to make friends; a time of learning to engage with others (e.g., swim team, boy scouts, church choir);
- Leader Identified (Stage Three): viewing leadership as the actions of the positional leader of a group; an awareness of the hierarchical nature of relationships in groups;
- Leadership Differentiated (Stage Four): viewing leadership also as non- positional and as a shared group process;
- Generativity (Stage Five): a commitment to developing leadership in others and having a passion for issues or group objectives that the person wants to influence; and,
- Integration/Synthesis (Stage Six): acknowledging the personal capacity for leadership in diverse contexts and claiming the identity as a leader without having to hold a positional role (Komives, et al., 2005).As illustrated in Figure 1, five other categories link to influence the student’s development through the LID stages. At each stage of the model there were developmental components that influence development including the role of adults in their lives, the changing role of peers, their opportunities for involvement, and time spent in reflective learning. All of these appear to contribute to the students’ development of leadership self-efficacy as an element of their identity.Figure 1: A Grounded Theory of Leadership Identity Development
At each stage the student engaged individual factors (their growing awareness of self, developing self-confidence, establishing interpersonal efficacy, developing leadership skills, and clarifying goals) with group factors (their changing view of groups from friendship structures to organizations to systems, having meaningful group experiences, and maintaining a continuity of membership in key groups). Leadership is learned in a group context and the dynamic reciprocity of the individual engaging in groups was critical to LID. As that engagement happened, the student changed their view of self with others beginning in a dependent mode when in a follower role, then feeling independent when in a leader role, and finally recognizing interdependence with others. As view of self changed the student established different views of leadership moving from thinking of leadership as only the external other and always an adult, to holding a leader-centric view of leadership as anyone in a position, and as they valued interdependence they viewed leadership as happening in non-positional roles as well as viewing leadership as a shared group process. Student voices evidencing this development can be found in Komives et al. (2005) and Komives et al. (2006).
Leadership Identity Development Model
Viewed as a model, Figure 2 illustrates that each stage of the model ends in a transition where previously held views no longer provide meaning, and the student began to engage in new ways of interacting with others. For these college students the key transition in this model was at the end of Stage Three (Leader Identified) when students began to value their interdependence with others. In the first two stages, students viewed themselves as largely dependent on others – particularly adults and older peers.
Figure 2: Leadership Identity Development Model
Changing View of Leadership
“Other people are “I am not a
leaders; leaders leader” are out there
“I want to be in-
“I want to do
ers and authority figures (e.g. the principal)
personal •Motivation to strengths/ weak- change some-nesses thing
Affirmation by •Observation/ adults (parents, watching teachers, coaches, •Recognition scout leaders, •adult sponsors church elders)
(others see me • Adult sponsors
as a leader) • Assume positional
Changing View of
Self with Others
Recognizing that leadership is happening around you
Getting exposure to involvements
Intentional involvements [sports, church, service, scouts, dance, SGA]
Experiencing groups for first time •Taking on
Becomes aware •Want to make of national lead- friends
Develop •Recognize personal skills personal leadership
Prepare for leadership
Build self confidence
Uninvolved or “inactive” followers •Want to get involved
“Active” follower or member
Engage in diverse contexts (e.g. church, sports, clubs,
Affirmation of •Role models adults •Older peers as
order of consciousness
largely as positional
roles held by self or
others; Leaders do
Changing View of Leadership
“A leader gets things done”
“ I am the leader and others follow me” or “I am a follower looking to the leader for direction”
“Holding a position does not mean I am a leader”
Take on responsibili- ties
as mentors, guides, coaches
Changing View of
Self with Others
Trying on new roles
Getting things done
Take on more complex
Taking on individual
Positional leadership roles or group member roles
Narrow down to meaningful experiences (e.g. church, sports, clubs, yearbook, scouts, class projects)
Leader struggles with delegation
Moves in and out of leadership roles and member roles but still believes the leader is in charge
Appreciates individual recognition
Recognition that I cannot do it all myself
Learn to value the importance/ talent of others
Leader has to get things done •Group has a job to do; organize to get tasks done
Involve members to get the job done
Stick with a primary group as an identity base; explore other groups
Meaningfully engage with others
Look to group resources
Model older peers and adults • Observe older peers • Adults
Older peers as sponsors & mentors •Adults as mentors & meaning makers
learning about leadership
non-position-al group roles
New belief that leadership can come from anywhere in the group (non positional)
Awareness that leadership is a
Changing View of Leadership
“I need to lead in a participatory way and I can contribute to leadership from anywhere in the organization”; “I can be a leader without a title”; “I am a leader even if I am not the
“Leadership is happening everywhere; leadership is a process; we are doing leadership together; we are all responsible”
“Who’s coming after me?”
Values servant leadership
Changing View of
Self with Others
Joining with others in shared tasks/ goals from positional or
Need to learn group skills
Seeks to facilitate a good group process whether in positional or non positional leader role
Commitment to community of the group
Learn to trust and value others & their involvement
Openness other perspectives •Develop comfort leading as an active member
Let go control
Learns about personal influence
Effective in both positional and non- positional roles• Practices being engaged member•
Focus on passion, vision, & commitments
Want to serve society
Seeing the collective whole; the big picture
Learn group and team skills
Value connectedness to others •Learns how
Seek fit with org. vision
Practicing leadership in ongoing peer relationships
Responds to meaning makers (student affairs staff, key faculty, same-age peer men-
Begins coaching others
Changing View of Leadership
“I am responsible as a member of my communities to facilitate the development of others as leaders and enrich
the life of our groups”
“I need to be true to myself in all situations and open to grow”
“I know I am able to work effectively with others to accomplish change from any place in the organization”; “I am a leader”
•Want to leave things better • Am trustworthy and value that I have credibility
with different organizations
enables continual recycling through leadership stages
Changing View of
Self with Others
Active commitment to a personal passion;
Accepting responsibility for the development of others,
Promotes team learning,
Responsible for sustaining orga-
Continued self development and life long learning,
Striving for congruence and internal confidence
Sponsor and develop others
transforming leadership •Concern for leadership pipeline
Concerned with sustainability of ideas
Openness to ideas
Learning from others
Sees leadership as a life long developmental process
Recognition of role modeling to others
Sustaining the organization
Ensuring continuity in areas of passion/ focus
Anticipating transition to new roles
Sees organizational complexity across contexts • Can imagine how to engage
Responds to meaning •Shared learning makers (student affairs •Reflection/ retreat staff, same-age peer
Re-cycle when context changes or is uncertain (contextual uncertainty),
From Komives, S. R., Longerbeam, S., Owen, J. E., Mainella, F. C., & Osteen, L. (2006). A
leadership identity development model: Applications from a grounded theory. Journal of College Student Development, 47, 401-42. Reprinted with permission from the American College Personnel Association (ACPA), One Dupont Circle, NW at the Center for Higher Education, Washington, DC 20036.
As they became aware of functioning in organizations (e.g., school, student clubs), they saw these groups as hierarchical settings. In Stage Three (Leader Identified) they functioned more independently when they were the positional leader in a group and felt dependent when they were the member of a group. Once they made the key transition to Stage Four (Leadership Differentiated), they came to an awareness of the interdependence of people working together in groups.
This interdependent relational orientation was critical to the latter three stages of the model and shaped their attitudes of leadership as non-positional and as a process eventually affirming their leadership identity as someone who can work interdependently with others in any context to accomplish shared goals.
Stage Three and Stage Four were complex. The research team observed two phases of varying durations in each of these stages. In the emerging phase the student tried on new attitudes, practiced new skills, and made decisions about what groups they would commit to and the level of that commitment. In the immersion phase they were fully engaged with the philosophies of that stage and learned to do them effectively. For example, in the Stage Three immersion phase as a positional leader the student worked hard to learn to delegate responsibilities, motivate group members, and organize the group’s tasks upholding the view that it was the leaders’ responsibility to get the job done. When functioning dependently in Stage Three immersion, students embraced being good followers and sought to practice good membership or followership skills while holding the view that it was the positional leader’s responsibility to work with the group to accomplish the group’s goals and they, as members, should do their part.
Development past Stage Three into interdependence appears to move into systems views and non-hierarchical perspectives deepening and broadening an individual’s leadership identity development (Wielkiewicz, 2000). LID contributes to the “constructive-developmental framework” (p. 390) of life long leadership development in which Van Velsor and Drath (2004) theorize about adult development beyond college and posit three Keganesque “developmentally ordered sets of beliefs” (p. 391) about the self: self-reading, self-authoring, and self-revising. LID seems closely aligned with O’Conner and Day’s (2007) observation that leadership expands from the individual, relational, to collective identity levels. They speculate that one holds aspects of all three levels concurrently.
Limitations of the study are presented in Komives et al. (2005). The reader should note that this study of college students retrospectively focused on their life journey prior to college and into their college years. The model may be transferrable to others in this college context, but does not address the continued evolution of leadership post-college nor does it address the experience of non- college people. We did not find this to be an age-based model, however, and would hypothesize that many people remain in Stage Three viewing leadership as hierarchical, directly shaping their leadership identity. As with other qualitative research, we encourage readers to determine the transferability of these findings to their context.
LID is informed by integrating the theory with other student development theories. One could reasonably ask why a theory derived from rigorous grounded theory methodology is best integrated with other developmental theories when applied to the practice of leadership education. The problem with using one theory in isolation in our work with students is we risk over generalizing or misapplying theory. Integrating several applicable developmental theories furthers a holistic understanding of students (McEwen, 2003). Theory can guide, but should not prescribe our work with students. As leadership educators we draw upon multiple families of student development theory always striving to recognize the complexity of individuals.
The field of human development can be studied from the organismic worldview wherein development is directional and movement occurs toward greater complexity of the individual (Goldhaber, 2000; McEwen, 2003). Early theorists (Pepper, 1961; Sanford, 1967) described the directional development process as the differentiation and integration of the various parts of the self. LID is a directional developmental theory because we found that students proceeded through the stages in the model in a sequential way. They did not reach later stages until earlier stages had been explored. They developed from a relatively simple to a relatively complex understanding of leadership. For example, students understood leadership as existing only in the leader before they understood leadership as a process that all participate in to effect organizational change.
We find it helpful to integrate four families of college student development theory into the theory of leadership identity development. The first family of theory that informed our LID findings is psychosocial development. The psychosocial family addresses the psychological and social development of college students. The most widely used theorist in psychosocial college student development is Chickering (1969), who outlined a series of seven developmental milestones that he called “vectors,” roughly corresponding with linear stages of development. The core developmental task for college students in the Chickering theory is establishing identity, which is the fifth vector. In an update of the theory, Chickering and Reisser (1993) noted that identity encompasses and builds upon all of the previous stages in the developmental theory. Identity establishment is characterized by a clear, comfortable, and secure sense of self, such as that achieved in advanced stages of leadership development. Establishing identity most closely aligns in the LID model with the achievement of Stage Four, Leadership Differentiated. In Leadership Differentiated students were secure enough in their sense of self to collaborate and embrace differing perspectives. As such, both theories acknowledge the significant achievement of identity as it reflects the development of college students.
In addition to psychosocial theories, a second broad family of theories about college student development is the cognitive family which addresses students’ intellectual and moral development. It is important to note that the concept of learning referred to in this paper is that used in Learning Reconsidered (NASPA/ACPA, 2004) that approaches learning as a “comprehensive, holistic, transformative activity that integrates academic learning and student development, processes that have often been considered separate, and even independent of each other” (p. 18). This approach to learning leads to applications of developmental synthesis theories.
The third family is the developmental synthesis theories, which integrate both cognitive and psychosocial development (McEwen, 2003). The Kegan (1994) orders of consciousness are a developmental synthesis theory. In the Kegan scheme, development occurs through meaning making. We make meaning by differentiating ourselves so that we can see ourselves in a previous stage as object. Kegan says that differentiation of the self always precedes development. We must come apart before we put ourselves back together. Development is stimulated by the crises characteristic of modern life. According to Erikson (1968), a developmental crisis occurs when internal conflict forces development. When we resolve these internal crises, we make new commitments. Developmental theories such as Kegan’s (1994) affirm that commitment to a new identity follows crisis.
As have other developmental theorists, we found that development occurred in the crises that characterized the transitions between stages (Chickering & Reisser, 1993; Erikson, 1968; Kegan, 1994; Piaget, 1977). In the LID stages, as in the Kegan (1994) orders, the key crisis appears to occur in Stage Three. A crisis in the hierarchical understanding of leadership characterized by Stage Three leads to the key transition and subsequent commitment to collaborative leadership characterized by Stage Four. An example of a crisis in students’ leadership identity might be when a hierarchical leader is disliked and subsequently resigns. The crisis of positional leadership is followed by the students’ commitment to leadership as non-positional and then as a process. The commitments students made manifested in the form of commitments to groups characterized by Stages Five and Six, when students applied their leadership development to addressing generativity (developing leadership in others) and synthesis (applying leadership in new contexts). Using Kegan’s language, the crises and mental demands of modern college student life represent an opportunity for cognitive and psychosocial leadership development in college students.
Meeting the mental demands of modern life requires strength of self, and the ability to follow one’s own journey (Baxter Magolda, 2001). Because developing strength of self is a challenging process, educators should be good partners and walk with students along their leadership journey (Kegan, 1994). An example of the challenge for students demonstrating a collaborative model of leadership is that in doing so students risk being perceived as weak leaders by their peers who hold a positional leadership frame. To demonstrate leadership as a process may require self-authorship, and reaching a collaborative leadership style is encouraged by support from mentors (Baxter Magolda, 2001; Kegan, 1994).
While mentoring can encourage leadership development, identifying the specific mentoring practices that are most effective depends upon an understanding of the full complement of students’ social identities. For example, students of color, successful in the predominantly White institution of the LID study, all mentioned mentoring by adults or older peers as significant to their leadership identity development (Komives et al., 2005).
Social identity theory is a fourth family of college student development theory. This family of theory is so integral to understanding leadership as an identity that we discuss it in greater detail in the next section. LID and Social Identities. Social identities reflect one’s membership in groups of commonality (Hogg, 2001). Leader identity can be viewed as a type of social identity. LID found that one’s thinking about leader identity developed from holding a view of the leader as positional to the leader being anyone engaged in the leadership process. In applying the LID model, leadership educators must also acknowledge the ways leadership identity intersects with other dimensions of identity such as race, culture, sexual orientation, gender, disability, religion, and social class. A challenge in using the LID model is recognizing this intersectionality (Collins, 1998) and how students’ multiple identities shift in relative salience depending on context and relationships (Abes, Jones, & McEwen, 2007). If, as social constructionist approaches to identity development posit, identity is socially, historically, politically, and culturally constructed (Weber, 2001), these factors must be considered in LID application and research.
There is a growing body of research that relates racial and cultural factors to leadership development (Arminio, et al., 2000; Balón, 2003, 2005; Harper & Quaye, 2007; Hoppe, 1998; Kezar & Moriarty, 2000; Liang, Lee, & Ting, 2002; Richardson & Loubier, 2008; Ruderman & Ernst, 2004). Students of color may experience the LID stages differently than their White peers. In developing the LID grounded theory, several participants of color described their experience of Stage Three (Leader Identified) in more collectivist ways than other study participants. For some students of color there was little independent experience of hierarchical leadership. Rather, there was an understanding of leadership as a positional, leader-centric phenomenon in the western world around them, but these students were able to move more quickly through Stage Three views to arrive at relational views of leadership more congruent with their cultural backgrounds.
The LID findings are in keeping with different forms of cultural cognition where students from individualistic cultures experience the self as separate and discrete while collectivist cognition of self depends on group relationships and obligations (Helms & Cook, 1999). As views of self and views of self with others shift across the LID model from dependent to independent and finally to interdependent, cultural cognition may shape the development of leadership identity. For example, whether students of color are in conformity, immersion, emersion, internalization, or integration statuses of racial identity development may affect the experiences that shape their leadership development (Helms, 1990). More research is needed about the intersection of race, culture, and leadership identity.
Gender was a factor for some participants’ experiences of leadership identity development. Several LID participants articulated that challenging gender stereotypes led them to seek leadership roles and experiences (Komives et al., 2005). Though much has been written about the intersection of gender and leadership (Astin & Leland, 1991; Chin, Lott, Rice, & Sanchez-Hucles, 2007; Eagly & Carli, 2007; Helgesen, 1995; Hoyt, 2007; Jones, 1997; Kellerman & Rhode, 2007; Klenke, 1996), much remains to be explored. Because LID measures how people develop a relational leadership identity, female gender orientations toward relational, collaborative, and democratic models should be considered. Recent research reveals women have higher scores on measures related to leadership and social change and lower scores on self-efficacy for leadership than their male counterparts (Dugan & Komives, 2007). How women connect their competence and confidence across LID stages merits further exploration. In addition, women’s cognitive development shifts across LID stages. Analogies can be made with awareness and exploration as received knowing, leadership identified as subjective knowing, leadership differentiated as procedural knowing, and later stages of generativity and integration as constructed knowing (Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger, & Tarule, 1986).
In addition to gender orientation, sexual orientation intersects with leadership development. Some lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) students become highly involved in college. Studies of LGBT students and leadership identity show queer students articulating activist identities in very early stages of their leadership identity development (Renn 2007; Renn & Bilodeau, 2005). The role of LGBT student involvement in identity specific organizations and activism seems to positively promote the development of leadership identity. In addition, campus climate for LGBT students may have an effect on both leadership and LGBT identity development (Evans & Broido, 1999; Longerbeam, Inkelas, Johnson, & Lee, 2007). Additional research is needed to examine the intersections of LGBT and leadership identity.
Challenges of Assessment
The LID model provides a useful framework for formative assessment. Angelo and Cross (1993) describe formative assessment as activities that are intended to help the educator understand students’ current level of comprehension and development in order to optimize student learning. By assessing how students define leadership, how they understand their roles in groups and their sense of independence and interdependence with others, educators are better able to adjust messages and adapt the learning environment to the way the learner currently makes meaning of leadership and his or her readiness for a more complex development of leadership.
Although leadership educators have drawn on many student development theories, they have not applied one that specifically addressed the developmental processes involved in the development of a leadership identity. Studies on the development of college students’ leadership capacity have been few, despite a large number of leadership programs and a call to infuse those programs with the assessment of their outcomes (Cress, 2000; Zimmerman-Oster, 2000). While the LID study addressed the lack of research on how leadership identity develops, it also introduced into leadership program assessment plans the challenges and potential missteps that come with using any developmental theory in assessment.
We want to emphasize again that it is a misuse of developmental theory to categorize students into boxes rather than to gain insight into how they experience and interpret their world. Unfortunately, in many ways the assessment process, particularly quantitative assessment, can be designed in just this way. A survey is too often used to assign students to a particular box and students are later post- tested to determine if the learning environment resulted in their being categorized into a better box. Instead, these assessments are best used to understand groups of students and design curriculum and other program interventions to combine theoretical frames and assessment findings.
The reality of leadership identity development is much more complex and appears cyclical rather than linear (Komives, et al., 2005). Rather than exhibiting behaviors and meaning making strategies that reflect a single stage, student responses and behavior may be more likely to signal multiple stages concurrently. Additionally, students may recycle to an earlier stage when faced with a situation that challenges their way of understanding themselves as leaders or in understanding a new leadership context. These factors can make it difficult to assess which stage a student primarily operates from. Learning to use LID to inform learning outcomes and program assessment without oversimplifying both the student experience and the LID theory itself is a challenge to be addressed.
Another challenge to assessing leadership identity development is that some students are able to discuss leadership in ways that would indicate one stage, but their actual behaviors reflect an earlier stage. This challenge is not unique to LID research. In self-report data it is not uncommon to find that participants self-report survey responses that are one stage higher than their actual behavior. Their observed behaviors may then mask the identity they are developing.
Quantitative Assessment. Assessment methodology for the LID model is currently limited. A quantitative measurement scale for LID is not yet available, but development is in progress. Two scales representing Stage Three and Stage Four were piloted in a sub-study of the 2006 Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership (MSL). This national study of students on 52 campuses used an eight-scale measure of the social change model of leadership development (SCM) as the primary leadership outcomes (Dugan & Komives, 2006, 2007). The Stage Three scales included items like “The head of the group is the leader and members of the group are followers” and “I think of myself as a leader ONLY if I am the head of a group (e.g. chair, president).” The items in Stage Four included “Group members share the responsibility for leadership” and “I feel inter-dependent with others in a group.” Preliminary analysis of data from over 10,000 students in the LID sub-study of the MSL showed that holding Stage Four perspectives contributed significantly to SCM leadership outcomes over Stage Three views alone (Komives, in press). In this exploratory analysis, students were categorized as being in Stage Three if they were high in Stage Three scores and low in Stage Four scores. Likewise, they were categorized in Stage Four if they were high in Stage Four scores while being low in Stage Three scores.
Preliminary analysis shows that after controlling for their pre-college views on each outcome, stage four thinking and beliefs contributed 10-25% over stage three beliefs on all leadership outcomes…Those classified in stage three were significantly lower on all [the scales of the SCM] than those in stage four. It would appear then that holding interdependent views of leadership as non-positional and as a process contributes to more ability in the values of the social change model of leadership. (Komives)
Qualitative Assessment. When other student development theories have lacked inventories that are practical or affordable for use by student affairs educators, it has been suggested that the practitioner’s own interactions and observations of students can provide useful clues for how students make meaning (Evans, Forney, & Guido-DiBrito, 1998). While several qualitative researchers have or are conducting their own LID studies on their campuses (Durham, n.d.; Renn & Bilodeau, 2005), the leadership educator need not be an expert in qualitative research methods to be able to use LID as a tool for powerful informal assessment. Observational methodologies and student interviews (as individuals or in focus groups) are exceptionally useful sources of data.
Angelo and Cross (1993) describe many simple techniques for formative classroom assessment that could also be adapted to co-curricular contexts. By using LID to guide these techniques, they can be even more useful for designing optimal learning environments. For example, a popular technique which Angelo and Cross call the “Background Knowledge Probe” (p. 121) involves collecting information from students on the first day of class about their current understanding or approach to the class topic. By shaping the questions and probes in this assessment around the LID model, the educator can begin to formulate an understanding of what stages the students are primarily operating from. This knowledge facilitates the leadership educator in designing experiences to develop skills in that stage and supports for students as they may transition to the next stage. Other opportunities to collect data and look for themes include interviews, focus groups, direct observations of students, and analyses of student work such as written papers, journals, or portfolios (Palomba & Banta, 1999; Upcraft & Schuh, 1996).
Portfolios, especially electronic portfolios, can be powerful tools for assessment and learning. Because they often feature multiple selected examples of student work, include reflection, and are context rich, portfolios can allow educators to examine development over time (Cambridge, 2001). Portfolios can reveal student developmental stages in ways that more traditional assessments might not and may even elucidate transitions between stages. For example, a student might use inclusive language to describe their collaborative, relational leadership style in a written reflection, leading an evaluator to identify them as likely positioned in Stage Four, Leadership Differentiated. However, suppose the same student includes evidence of their approach to leadership in their portfolio that reflects more hierarchical Stage Three thinking – a piece of student government legislation that they drafted without input from others or a photo of themselves standing behind a podium holding a gavel. This mismatch between espoused relational views of leadership and artifacts that reveal more hierarchical approaches might lead portfolio evaluators to identify this student as in LID Stage Three-Stage Four Transition. Thus, portfolios and other formative types of assessment can be used to more accurately to identify student leadership transitions and stages and intentionally to encourage processes that promote increasingly complex leadership identities.
We emphasize that a critical way to informally assess students is by being alert for LID related themes in student reflections, whether those reflections are in the form of written journals, group discussions, interviews, or creative work. The guiding questions and themes for such reflections need to focus on issues that the educator can fit into the LID model. For example:
- Can you think of a time when you defined leadership differently than you do now? Describe it. How do you define leadership now and how is it different from your earlier view? [Note: This technique is similar to Kegan’s (1994) subject-object shift inquiry.]
- When you have a position of authority in a group, what is your role with others?
- What is your role in a group when you do not have a position of authority?
- What strategies are you using to ensure that this group and its goals will continue after you are no longer a member?
Developing Educational Programs and Outcomes Using LID
Increasingly throughout higher education, leadership educators are expected to design programs based on student outcomes; these outcomes are focused on what students will know, believe, or be able to do as a result of their participation in designated college experiences (Palomba & Banta, 1999). The LID model provides a framework to design leadership development opportunities with clear and definable learning outcomes. For example, the International Leadership Association (ILA) is considering guidelines for quality curricular programs. In 2006, the ILA convened a learning lab focused on identifying the questions essential to the development of leadership education programs at post-secondary institutions (Ritch, 2008). The LID model was adopted by the learning lab to scaffold the guidelines for teaching and learning so that guidelines addressed students’ needs and concerns at different levels of leadership identity development. The ILA Guidelines address the roles and responsibilities of both instructors and learners across LID stages as well as suggest appropriate teaching methodologies, learning projects, and learning outcomes at each relevant stage of leadership identity development. We look forward to following how this project will develop.
This section explores possible applications of LID in program design and in curricular design as well as key connections of LID to the development of leadership self-efficacy. The section concludes by focusing on the key role of group experiences in the LID process.
Using LID to Promote Leadership Self-Efficacy
Grounded in the work of social learning theory, the LID model frames development as a student’s capacity to increase his or her self-efficacy within the specific domain of relational leadership (Bandura, 1997; Komives, et al., 2005). Efficacy is defined as the “belief in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of action required to produce given attainments” (Bandura, 1997, p. 3) and with regard to leadership can be viewed as “a student’s beliefs about his or her abilities to exercise their leadership knowledge and skills in a given situation” (Denzine, 1999, p. 3). Application of this social learning construct is a helpful framework for the delivery of leadership programs. Focusing on self-efficacy enhances the leadership development outcomes of educational interventions (Hannah, Avolio, Luthans, & Harms, 2008; Hoyt, 2002; McCormick, Tanguma, & López-Forment, 2002; McCormick, 2001; Chemers, Watson, & May, 2000).
Indeed, findings from MSL support that leadership self-efficacy contributes significantly to one’s leadership in the social change model beyond various college experiences and pre-college factors (Dugan & Komives, 2009). Building on the foundation that self-efficacy is a key variable influencing leader development (McCormick, 2001), educators can use Bandura’s (1997) four developmental sources of efficacy in the design and delivery of leadership development programs. The four sources are: enactive mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and physiological and affective states. Throughout the LID research participants’ journeys, these four sources of efficacy development emerged time and time again as the modes of transportation that guided them from one LID stage to the next. Descriptions and sample applications of these sources as a method to deliver leadership identity development programs are presented in Table 1. (See also Pearlmutter, 1999).
Table 1: Opportunities for Developing Leadership Self-Efficacy
Antecedents in Self- Efficacy for Leadership
Provide opportunities for students to:
Involvements that provide
students’ indicators of ability
Observations that allow
students to compare self with others
Supports and other social
influences impact students
Physiological and Affective States
Emotional cues shape
students’ judgment about their capability to lead
develop skills associated with each stage;
provide recognition of responsibilities through formal roles, job descriptions, portfolio projects, and increased involvement;
practice through peer development, mentoring, and student assistant roles; and
teach the language of leadership to identify stages and behaviors.
observe role models and peers create change on campus;
hear from local, national, global speakers;
learn from case studies;
watch stories of leadership on YouTube, videos, film, and TV; and
identify with advisors through advisors’ own leadership development stories.
gather developing leaders together to learn from each other;
connect with an individual mentor
develop formal and informal relationships across organizational involvement;
engage and react to faculty, staff, community guests at organizational meetings; and
use social networking sites to reinforce leadership dialogue and conversation.
reflect on their leadership experiences and future journey;
retreat from the stress of their multi- tasking, plugged-in, over-committed schedules to take stock of fears, hopes, goals, lessons learned;
connect to their spiritual source of strength; and
wrestle with the big questions and purpose of their leadership journey.
One co-curricular example applying the LID model on campus is the Florida State University’s I-LEAD plan. An individual leadership development plan, the I- LEAD plan is a three-hour workshop designed to (a) introduce the LID model to students, (b) walk them through a self-assessment of their leadership journey, (c) reflect upon their placement in the model, and (d) identify what experiences and lessons they need to transition between LID stages. The workshop begins with a brief introduction to the LID model. Following this overview, students respond to a set of life narrative questions. Once completed, students complete a self- assessment of their written responses to explore their current LID stage and the most salient developmental sources of efficacy that relate to their development.
Students then work in pairs to share and gather feedback on their leadership journey and identification of transformative experiences. Based on these conversations, students walk through a planning process to create an individualized leadership development plan to transition to the next LID stage. At the conclusion of the workshop students have created their own personalized LID chart in addition to a visual model of how their leadership journey will continue into the next LID stage. The workshop is congruent with Denzine’s (1999) comment that “students should be active participants in measuring and regulating their own efficacy beliefs” (p. 5).
Using LID in Program Design
As teachers, advisors, programmers, and facilitators, leadership educators can effectively use the LID model as an instructional guide for the design and delivery of co-curricular programs and helps focus curricular course design. The grounding philosophy of the LID model may provide a pedagogical framework to design and deliver leadership programs in the leadership curriculum. The six developmental stages of LID’s key category (developing a leadership identity) form the building blocks of an outcomes-based leadership program. Whether designed as short, moderate, or long term co-curricular programs, LID provides an architectural structure from which to build students’ leadership capacity.
Using LID as a program design guide, each stage encompasses a set of leadership learning outcomes and a student’s transition from one stage to the next is an indicator of his or her leadership identity development. As a sequential stage- based model, it is critical to design programs in alignment with the leadership identity development process. Referencing Sanford’s (1967) classic “plus-one” educational theory, students did not jump randomly through the LID model, neither therefore should leadership programs. It is critical also to remember that students in the same organization may identify with different stages in the model. This lesson rang true for one of the authors who recognized she over programmed for students who identify in Stage Five while completely ignoring her students’ with leadership developmental needs in Stage Three. LID research indicates, for example, that students must first understand and practice the skills of a hierarchical structure in order to recognize the interdependent relationships within that structure supporting their transition to viewing leadership as non-hierarchical and process. Focused research is needed to further understand these connections yet research (see Wielkiewicz, 2000) indicates that hierarchical thinking precedes systemic perspectives. Programmers intent on developing a more complex understanding of leadership within students may be well advised to first help students develop a relatively simple one. A holistic leadership development program may seek to move all students and groups of students in student organizations from their current understanding and practice of leadership to more complex, integrated understanding and practice.
The five related categories (developmental components, individual factors, group factors, view of self, and view of leadership) that support LID also serve to guide important learning and program outcomes. Specifically, as program outcomes they may serve as an internal assessment of advisory roles and teaching strategies, organizational structures, and environmental messages. Knowledge of the related categories and their associated dimensions allows advisors to design advising strategies or classroom instructors to respond to journal reflections that recognize developmental cues. An understanding of the five related categories leads to questions such as:
- How do we encourage students to commit to one organization instead of hop from one to another? Increasing the depth and complexity of a student’s organizational relationships and knowledge assisted in students’ transition from Stage Three to Stage Four (Komives, et al., 2005).
- How are older students pulled further into the mentoring and advising of younger students? The influence of older peers gained significance as students moved through the model, pointing to the critical role they can serve in leadership training and development programs and affirming that they are learning leadership themselves by being peer mentors (Komives, et al., 2006).
- What is our commitment as advisors to challenge and support students through the developmental crisis that leads to the key transition from Stage Three to Four? An effective educational response to a student’s crisis of positional leadership has the ability to facilitate that student’s grasp of the more complex leadership identity needed to solve his or her current complex organizational challenges (Komives, et al., 2006).
- How are the concepts of power, vision, values, and leadership discussed and applied in the office environment or in a classroom setting? Solely equating position with leadership, and reinforcing and recognizing only the extroverted students, awards programs that highlight one type of leader, and may teach and promote a simplistic view of leadership.Using the leadership identity development model as a framework allows leadership educators to build holistic programs and curricular models designed to explore student development along the stages of the LID model.
Using LID in Curricular Applications
LID can be a valuable tool for making the leadership curricular design process more intentional. Determining exactly what should be included in a single leadership course or a sequence of courses can be a daunting task. First, it is important to recognize the difference between a leadership studies course and a leadership skills course, both of which can play a role in leadership identity development. If a course is primarily designed around teaching leadership skills it may be very useful to those, for example, in the emerging phase of Stage Three when they need to learn and practice foundational skills. However, this can appear to be a leader-centric approach to teaching leadership and may not be productive in helping students in LID Stage Three move to the more interdependent stages of their leadership identity development. We repeat again that one of the challenges of using any developmental stage model, particularly in a classroom setting, is that not all of the students in the course will be at the same developmental level.
Although we believe, based on our experience, that college students tend to come to college in Stage Three (Leader Identified) (Komives et al., 2006), it is important for leadership educators to recognize that the students in their course will most likely be in different LID stages. Therefore, instructors need to incorporate pedagogical strategies that will meet the needs of students at various stages of their leadership identity development.
This section includes several suggestions for leadership course instructors to be purposeful in their facilitation of student’s growth in their leadership identity development. We strongly suggest leadership educators begin an introductory leadership course with the “Background Knowledge Probe” (Angelo & Cross, 1993) described earlier in which students share their current definition of leadership on an index card. In addition, have students share the messages they have received about leadership and then report out to the entire class. These two activities allow the instructor to informally assess the students’ leadership identity development stages and to start a dialogue on what leadership is. At the end of the course the instructor might hand back the index cards and have students write their current definition of leadership again. As a final exam essay, have the students reflect on how their thoughts about leadership have changed since the beginning of the course, including the specific theories, concepts, and experiences that influenced this change. Considering that learning the language of leadership for Stage Three students was found in the LID study to help facilitate their growth into the transition of Stage Four (Komives et al., 2005), it would be important in a foundational course to include the two major leadership paradigms (Rost, 1991), where the difference between leader and leadership, the important role of followers, and the purpose of leadership is emphasized. Providing an overview of leadership theories and models consistent with both the leader-centric view and the relational or process-oriented view of leadership and having students compare and contrasts these various theories and models will also bring attention to a new way of thinking about leadership and who is responsible for leadership. Showing video clips that highlight these particular theories will help bring the leadership theories and perspectives to life and allow students to see the possible problems with leader-centric approaches as well as seeing the strengths of such leadership theories as transformational and servant leadership.
Our LID research revealed that students in Stage Three had never thought about the difference between leader and leadership and usually began their leadership definition as “someone who.” In order to get students to reflect on the important role of followers and to have them realize that other individuals besides the positional leaders can do leadership, students in Stage Three would benefit from discussing the difference between an effective follower and a passive follower/non-participant (Kelley, 1992). There are negative views associated with followers, especially when students have received messages such as “Be a leader, not a follower.” Incorporating Rost’s (1991) chapter on the role of followers in the leadership process as well as Kelley’s (1992) five types of followers can challenge the misconceptions many students have about followers and their role in leadership. An in-class activity for getting students to see that the expectations for effective leaders and effective followers are quite similar is to have half of the students brainstorm on the qualities that they look for in an effective leader, while the other half of students brainstorm a list of qualities that they would want from their ideal followers if they were a positional leader. Have them discuss the differences, but also the similarities. To further address the idea of being a leader without having a position or title, through a journal assignment have students share at least one time where they were not in a position but felt that they were essential in contributing to the group’s completion of their desired goals. These activities that broaden students’ view of leadership can be a cognitive bridge (Kegan, 1994) to Stage Four and a shift in identity as a leader.
Situating learning in the student’s personal context and experience is a basic tenant of effective learning (Baxter Magolda, 2001). Another way for students to relate to course content is for instructors to use discussion questions and journal assignments that require students to relate the various leadership theories and concepts to the students’ out-of-class group involvements (such as their family, jobs, student organizations, sports teams, class projects, volunteer work). Such reflective opportunities proved to be a central component to developing a leadership identity (Komives, et al., 2005). Students in LID Stage Four, for example, might observe a group and write a paper on what they observed with specific suggestions for how the group can become more effective. Students in an upper-level organizational leadership course, who may be transitioning into LID Stage Five, may benefit from an appropriate assignment to design and facilitate a strategic planning session for a student organization in which they are currently members. Our LID participants described how teaching peers about leadership and practicing facilitation was beneficial for their own development as leaders.
The LID participants experience lead us to recommend that students in a senior leadership capstone course and upper-class students in organizations would benefit from opportunities to co-facilitate a leadership or team building workshop with a seasoned leadership instructor. Mentoring was an important process throughout the LID experience and the co-facilitator could also fill the role as a coach and mentor to the Stage Five students.
Using LID to Address the Challenges of Group Work
Participants in our LID study shared that group projects in courses had a great impact on students’ thoughts about leadership, typically negative (Komives et al., 2005). Students come to leadership organizations, programs, and courses with various views about working in groups. Leadership educators can quickly find out some of these views by asking students to choose whether they prefer to work alone or to work in a group. Educators should allow the students to share their reasons behind their choices in order to informally indicate which LID stages the students are bringing to the group. One problem with many group projects in courses is that the instructors may be assuming that the students know how to work in group settings and that all students are fully committed to the project.
Similar phenomena occur in task groups in student organizations. If the groups consist of mainly students in LID Stage Three or earlier stages, the group members may assume that there needs to be one student in charge, while the other individuals are the passive followers; therefore, leading to a frustrating experience for the leader, the followers, or both. Class groups are often assigned as a leaderless group activity (no one is appointed chair, leader, or facilitator). Until the Stage Three student sees the benefits of group work through having a successful shared leadership experience, they will continue to blame the concept of group work as the reason the experience was bad. Leadership educators need to highlight the difference between a dysfunctional working group and an effective, productive group as well as provide guidelines for creating and maintaining effective groups. For students with Stage Four thinking about the importance of group, but who lack the knowledge or skills of how to assist groups to be effective and productive (Hickman & Meixner, 2008), video clips from movies that address the process involved in developing an effective team such as Remember the Titans, Hoosiers, Drumline may be useful.
Instructors or advisors who facilitate a process of establishing group norms including how leadership will be shared in the early stage of group formation may find they are both teaching leadership and enabling more focused task outcomes (Johnson & Johnson, 2008). In the first or second-class session or committee meeting, for example, instructors or advisors could have students brainstorm and build consensus on a set of class or group norms and expectations and discuss how students will be held accountable to these expectations. This is a good way to convey at the beginning of a group experience that every group member plays an essential role in the success of the group. In order for students to put to practice what they are learning in a course and to experience group leadership in a safe and educational environment, we suggest that instructors consider assigning groups at the beginning of a course that will be used throughout the semester. To be intentional in teaching how to be an effective group, provide specific guidelines for the groups, require students to rotate roles, encourage students to give constructive feedback to one another, and have students reflect on their group experience. If time and money allow, we strongly suggest that classes and student organizations incorporate a weekend leadership retreat that focuses mainly on team building and putting to practice the relational leadership model.
All leadership courses and other educational experiences should integrate opportunities for self-awareness and personal assessment that were critical to the development in each of the LID stages. Strategies for self-awareness in a foundational leadership course can include pairing up students in the class and having them interview one another on such topics as values, strengths, talents, interests, personality, passions, careers, and relationships with others. We encourage formal assessments such as the MBTI, SLPI, and Strengthsfinder 2.0. Feedback from peers, supervisors, teachers, and co-workers should also be included to allow students to hear how others perceive them. For courses that incorporate group dynamics and team building, watching a videotape of their involvement in group discussions and activities can be extremely informative for students. Exit interviews are an excellent tool for students to be able to articulate their current philosophy of leadership, how they plan to incorporate this philosophy into their future plans, and steps they plan to take to continue learning and growing as an individual and as a leader.
Recommendations for Meeting the Challenge of Implementing LID
The usefulness of the LID theory is in improving leadership education and practice. Theory can be used to describe student behavior, explain it, or predict it, but what we really want to do is influence student development (McEwen, 2003). These 10 recommendations are possible applications of LID to leadership education practice drawn from the LID research in addition to related student development theory or research. Readers are reminded that the grounded theory methodology utilized in the LID study seeks to heighten an understanding of this identity development process that may be transferable to the reader’s context; it is not meant to be generalizable, but it may be applicable and may lead to further studies that do seek to explore these observations further.
Know your personal LID path. Leadership educators should reflect on their own leadership identity journey. How does it fall within the model? Does the model transfer to illuminate your own experience? What transitions and interventions were significant in your learning? Through reflection how might you understand, recognize, and empathize with students struggling through the developmental challenges of LID?
Ask students to reflect. Reflection is widely regarded by those using experiential learning pedagogies as an essential step in making meaning of experience (see Kolb, 1983). Processing events in a student organization, debriefing an experience, or pausing to think about the dynamics in the classroom all enhance learning.
Teach group process. Students need to learn functional group skills to help them approach groups as interdependent participants (Johnson & Johnson, 2008). Understanding group process from how groups form to dynamics within groups may facilitate further differentiation of relational leadership as a group process (Komives, et al., 2007)
Teach the language of leadership. Students told us that when they could put words to what they were discovering (e.g., interdependence, collaboration, process), it helped them redefine their understanding of what leadership is (Komives, et al., 2005).
Encourage students to stay committed to a group over time. Sustained group commitment allowed students to observe and resolve group conflicts to begin to develop concerns about generativity and sustainability. We learned that students had to stay in a group to reach differentiation, the crisis of Stage Three, so crucial to the struggle for integration that is the key indicator of growth (Komives, et al., 2005).
Help students connect their LID stage and the dynamics of their organizations. Those graduating students who may be in LID Stages Four, Five, or Six may demonstrate a value of interdependence and may view leadership as positional, non-positional, and as a process. They may need to be prepared to enter work environments that may practice Stage Three hierarchical practices where they may become stifled and frustrated. They may also need affirmation that they indeed can engage in leadership in any organizational setting now that they have a more complex leader identity (in Table 2 we called this dealing with “contextual uncertainty”).
Use mentors. College student leadership efficacy is supported by the use of peer mentors and professional mentors (Jabaji, Slife, Komives, & Dugan, 2008). Mentors teach through Sanford’s (1967) classic concept of challenge and support and may serve as anchors for students moving through stages of consciousness and transitions between LID stages (Kegan, 1994). They may become good companions on the developmental journey (Baxter Magolda, 2001) and serve as threshold people opening up new avenues for growth (Daloz, Keen, Keen, & Parks 1998).
View the role of educator as a coach. Co-curricular leadership educators need to expand upon their intentional teaching or facilitation roles. As coaches, educators can provide feedback, enhance opportunities for practice, and create simulations for students to examine their beliefs and ways of thinking (Van Velsor & Drath, 2004).
Establish partnerships among leadership educators (student affairs and faculty). Building upon the work of Learning Reconsidered I and II (NASPA/ACPA, 2004), educators must create partnerships across campus to design holistic leadership outcomes that recognize and integrate LID development opportunities across curricular and co-curricular campus- based experiences.
Establish a K-20 development model. LID research has implications for a life-narrative approach to leadership development. Students bring their pre-college leadership perspectives, experiences, and identities with them to college. Partnering with K-12 educators to enhance a more comprehensive leadership education model would provide continuity for more students. The importance of this partnership is evident in the recent MSL findings that identify the significance of pre-collegiate impact on collegiate leadership outcomes (Dugan & Komives, 2007).
This presentation of the LID grounded theory and related model has attempted to provide a useful framework to guide the journey that leadership educators take with their students. To explore the complexity of the LID findings, we integrated LID with other developmental theories and accepted the challenge to apply LID to curricular, program, group design, and assessment practices. With this knowledge, leadership educators may better meet the needs of their students and the organizations and communities those students lead. In the evolving field of leadership education, theoretical frames on leadership identity development such as LID need to be operationalized to determine the validity of the theory. Further research such as that underway in the Multi-institutional Study of Leadership (see www.nclp.umd.edu or www.leadershipstudy.net), the longitudinal Fullerton project study (www.claremontmckenna.edu/kli/research/fls.php), and other developmental studies (see Murphy & Reichard, in press) hold promise for advancing informed, intentional leadership educational practices for students.
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