Katie Elizabeth Mills, Jacklyn Bruce, Ph.D. 10.12806/V12/I1/R9
Leadership is a tenant of Greek Letter Organizations (GLOs), whether stated in mission and vision statements or implicitly directed via New Member Programs. Students in Greek Life are directed to demonstrate their leadership abilities, whether it is with their philanthropy of choice, within their chapter, or within the larger university setting. Little is known, however, about the leadership competencies of students who choose to become involved in Greek Life. Their leadership potential is the future of their GLOs and the Greek Life system on any campus.
Because leadership is exhibited in many ways, and can be viewed and valued differently by differing cultures and disciplines, it can be described as a paradigm. Paradigms are patterns and ways of looking at things in order to make sense of them (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 1998). Some interpret good leaders as being verbal, self confident, clearly in charge, and also as those who direct followers. Some see a leader as one who delegates and is involved with group discussion. Some see leadership within a group, and not defined as an individual. Komives et al. describes leadership as best defined by using a personal philosophy of leadership and how to work effectively with others toward meaningful change.
New college or university students have ideas about leadership that may strongly influence their leadership self-perception (Shertzer & Schuh, 2004). Most higher learning institutions tout leadership opportunities within the university. However, these institutions rarely attend to the development of their students as leaders by offering leadership development curricula (Cress, Astin, Zimmerman-Oster, & Burkhardt, 2001). This may be because there is not a clear picture of the leadership status and disposition of students as they begin college. Knowing the leadership development level of NMs could provide a clearer path for leadership development curricula.
Nationally around 10% of college students are affiliated with a GLO (Greek Life, 2011). These organizations offer opportunities for learning and development outside the classroom. As leadership development is a needed skill and disposition for success in today’s society, it is also a goal for most fraternal organizations.
Conceptual and Theoretical Frameworks
According to Astin (1993), the single most powerful source of influence on the undergraduate student’s development is in the peer group. This interaction strongly effects leadership development. Affiliation with fraternities and sororities enhances the development of positive functioning interpersonal relationships while facilitating the development of leadership skills and teaching teamwork which fosters the interchange of ideas, promotes values clarification, and a sense of autonomy and personal identity (“Fraternities/Sororities,” n.d.). Created for college students, the Social Change Model (SCM) of Leadership Development (SRLS Guidebook, 2005) provides the theoretical framework for this study. With this model, change for the common good was achieved with the establishment of eight core values enhancing students’ levels of self-awareness and ability to work with others (Dugan & Komives, 2007). These values include:
Consciousness of Self.
Controversy with Civility.
The use of all these values in one instrument is found in the Socially Responsible Leadership Scale (SRLS). Students tend to score highest in the Commitment construct and students tend to score lower in the constructs of Controversy with Civility and Citizenship (Dugan, 2006a, 2006b; Dugan, Komives, & Segar, 2008; Dugan & Komives, 2010; Dugan, 2008). To avoid unnecessary repetition and promote understanding, constructs are fully defined in the discussion section.
Nature of the Problem
Approximately 2,400 students (11%) participate in one of 53 GLOs at NC State (personal communication, 2011). Previous research shows membership in fraternal organizations has an impact on the leadership development of members (Astin, 1993). To provide a more focused view, one must start at the beginning of college student development. Assessing NMs provides a baseline of leadership dispositions of individuals who have not yet experienced the full array of Greek Life and GLO opportunities. To know what these students need assists in informing research and practice in this area.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this study is to examine and interpret the self-perceived leadership values of NMs of GLOs at NCSU. By profiling NMs, a description of students’ leadership values can be determined based upon the results. The objective of the study was to describe the perceived leadership values of NMs of GLOs via the eight values of the Social Change Model.
The discussion section encourages use of these results to not only inform recommendations for NCSU GLOs, but GLOs across the country if their survey results indicate similar disposition levels. Additionally the findings contribute to the amassed results from previous and future replications of SRLS-R2 results. The wide spread use of this instrument and the pooling of results opens the door to an application of implications and recommendations that one institution’s individual study cannot statistically provide. This study contributes to this collection of results; therefore, it assists in informing the practice of GLOs in their leadership development efforts and also the greater leadership development field.
Fraenkel and Wallen (2009) stated the “purpose of surveys is to describe certain characteristics of a population” (p. G-3). Descriptive studies are often intended to shed light on a problem so that recommendations can be made. This study explores the leadership values NMs of GLOs believe they possess. This group is not specifically being compared to itself at another time, or another individual group (like an experiment).
The population for this study consisted of all NMs of Greek Life at NCSU during Fall 2011. The population frame was all 629 GLO NMs. A census sample of all 629 students was used in this study. Since the entire population was used, selection was not considered to be a threat to the validity of the study.
The design of the instrument was created by Tyree (1998) as a set of valid and statistically reliable scales that evaluate the eight values of the Social Change Model of Leadership (SCM) (SRLS Guidebook, 2005). Instrument validity was established by a group of students and leadership experts at the time of development. One question was inadvertently omitted upon survey delivery. A post-hoc reliability analysis was then conducted to estimate the reliability of the instrument. Cronbach’s alpha for all sections were found to be still within the acceptable range – Consciousness of Self (.71), Congruence (.81), Commitment, (.80), Collaboration, (.74), Common Purpose (.69), Controversy with Civility, (.64), Citizenship, (.87), and Change (.76).
Data was collected mid-semester in the Fall 2011 semester using an online survey research site. Data collection followed Dillman’s (2000) Tailored Design Method. A message with the informed consent document and the link for the study was sent to all 629 students. One week later a thank-you message was sent to those who had completed the questionnaire and requesting responses again from the rest. For four consecutive weeks after the initial email a thank you note and link was sent as a reminder.
Of the 629 NMs of GLOs a response rate of 43.8% was obtained. This is higher than the typical 27% response rate achieved with email surveys (Fraze, Hardin, Brashears, Smith, & Lockaby, 2002). Because the response rate was less than the 85% suggested by Lindner, Murphy, and Briers (2001), procedures for handling non-responders (Armstrong & Overton, 1977) were followed. In comparing early respondents (first three weeks) to late respondents (last three), there were no differences. The results are generalizable because the late responses are assumed to be similar to non-responses (Lindner & Wingenbach, 2002).
Data were exported from Qualtrics.com into SPSS 20.0 for Windows. Ordinal data were collected, with a rating system ranging from 1-5. Data were summarized in each construct using means and standard deviations. These researchers followed the protocol established by the instrument developers and subsequent researchers and kept the negatively worded items of the instrument and reverse coded where appropriate (Appel-Silbaugh, 2005; Dugan, 2006a, 2006b; Gehrke, 2008; Dugan 2008). This strategy is further supported by Price and Mueller (1986) who suggest mixing of positively and negatively worded questions so as to minimize the tendency of participants to circle the points toward one end of the scale. Some have argued the use of reverse scored items reduces response set bias.
Change is “making a better world and a better society for oneself and others” (SRLS Guidebook, 2005, p. 4). The item range was 2.52-4.14. Students ranked “I am open to new ideas” as the highest within the construct, (4.14). Item “Transition makes me uncomfortable” rated lowest (2.52); however, as this is negatively worded it demonstrates students indicate disagreement that they were made uncomfortable by transition. (see Table 1)
Student’s Perceptions of Overall Leadership Skills – Change (n=276)
The construct of Citizenship is the ability to render leadership in a community setting; it describes how an individual becomes connected to the community through activity (SRLS Guidebook, 2005). The range of the item mean scores, 4.05-4.23, was small. Students ranked “I participate in activities that contribute to the common good” as the highest item in the construct (4.23). The lowest ranked was “I believe I have a civic responsibility to the greater public” (4.05). (see Table 2)
Students’ Perceptions of Overall Leadership Skills – Citizenship (n=276)
I participate in activities that contribute to
the common good.
I have the power to make a difference in
I give time to making a difference for someone
I value opportunities that allow me to contribute to
I work with others to make my communities better
I believe I have responsibilities to my community.
I am willing to act for the rights of others.
I believe I have a civic responsibility to the greater
The Collaboration construct is defined as working with others, to multiply group effectiveness, by capitalizing on the various talents and diversity of members (SRLS Guidebook, 2005). The range for this construct was 3.92- 4.24. Students ranked “I enjoy working with others toward common goals” the highest (4.24). The lowest ranked item was “I am able to trust the people with whom I work,” (3.92). (see Table 3)
Students’ Perceptions of Overall leadership Skills – Collaboration (n=276)
The construct of Commitment is defined as an individual having a significant investment in an idea or person (SRLS Guidebook, 2005). The range of this construct was close, 4.20-4.55. Students ranked “I am willing to devote time and energy to things that are important to me” the highest (4.55). It should be noted that this is the highest ranked item overall. Students ranked the item “I am focused on my responsibilities” as the lowest (4.20). (see Table 4)
Students’ Perceptions of Overall Leadership Skills – Commitment (n=276)
I am willing to devote time and energy to things that
are important to me.
I stick with others through the difficult times.
I can be counted on to do my part.
I follow through on my promises.
I hold myself accountable for responsibilities I agree to.
The construct of Common Purpose is described as an individual’s ability to work in a group with shared aims and values to envision the groups’ purpose (SRLS Guidebook, 2005). The range for this construct was 3.93-4.33. Students ranked the item “I support what the group is trying to accomplish” as the highest (4.33). Students ranked “I think it is important to know other people’s priorities” as the lowest (3.93). (see Table 5)
Students Perceptions of Overall Leadership Skills – Common Purpose (n=276)
I support what the group is trying to
I know the purpose of the groups to which I belong.
It is important to develop a common direction in a
group in order to get anything done.
I contribute to the goals of the program.
I am committed to a collective purpose in those groups
to which I belong.
Common values drive an organization.
I work well when I know the collective values of a group.
I have helped to shape the mission of the group.
I think it is important to know other people’s priorities.
The construct of Congruence illustrates ability to act in ways consistent with values and beliefs. The range for this construct was 4.01-4.44. Students ranked “Being seen as a person of integrity is important to me” highest (4.44). The lowest item was “My behaviors are congruent with my beliefs.” (4.01). (see Table 6)
Students’ Perceptions of Overall Leadership Skills – Congruence (n=276)
The construct of Consciousness of Self is awareness of personal beliefs, values, attitudes, and emotions that motivate an individual to react (SRLS Guidebook, 2005). The construct range was 1.90-4.36. Students ranked the item “The things about which I feel passionate have a priority in my life” as the highest (4.36). The lowest score (1.90) was statement “I have low self esteem.” This is negatively worded, and indicates a rating demonstrating disagreement with students having low self esteem. (see Table 7)
Students’ Perceptions of Overall Leadership Skills – Consciousness of Self (n=276)
The construct of Controversy with Civility describes recognizing that differences in viewpoints are inevitable, and that these differences must be acknowledged civilly (SRLS Guidebook, 2005). The range of this construct was 2.29-4.34. Students ranked “I am open to others’ ideas” as the highest (4.34). Students ranked “I struggle when group members have ideas that are different than mine” as the lowest (2.29). As this is negatively worded, this score indicates a rating demonstrating disagreement that these students struggle when group members have ideas different than theirs. (see Table 8)
Students’ Perceptions of Overall Leadership Skills – Controversy with Civility (n=276)
I am open to others’ ideas.
I respect opinions other than my own.
I value difference in others.
I share my ideas with others.
Hearing differences in opinion enriches my thinking.
Creativity can come from conflict.
Greater harmony can come out of disagreement.
I am comfortable with conflict.
I am uncomfortable when someone disagrees with me.
When there is a conflict …, one will win and the other
In order to facilitate comparisons to previous research and better position this research to be placed in context, mean scores were calculated for each construct. (see Table 9)
Construct Means and Standard Deviations
Consciousness of Self (r)
Controversy with Civility (r)
Note: (r) denotes constructs that were re-coded due to negatively worded questions.
Discussion of Conclusions & Implications
All of the constructs in this study were highly scored by the respondents; with no score lower than a ranking of neutral. This finding is similar to other studies (Dugan, 2006a, 2006b; Gehrke, 2008; Dugan, Komives, & Segar, 2008; Dugan & Komives, 2010; Dugan, 2008). Where improvement may be desired, recommendations are provided. To compare findings of this research to other studies, and place this research in context, the single digit mean score and construct rankings will be used for comparison and discussion.
Changes, is an individual’s comfort with change, not necessarily change itself; and was scored in the bottom third among constructs. This is consistent with other studies where change was among the lowest scoring constructs (Dugan, 2006a; Gehrke, 2008; Dugan, Komives, & Segar, 2008; Dugan, 2008). The mean for this construct was within neutral ranking (3.79) demonstrating that the population ranked themselves neither highly skilled nor deficient. However, because of the lower ranking, these students may perceive themselves as less comfortable with change.
The neutral score for change could be influenced by the students’ age and ability to see themselves as change agents. College is generally a time of self- exploration, a time to begin anew. As most NMs are freshmen, they are adjusting and changing to many new situations. It may be, with all the change in their lives, they may realize they don’t have a high degree of comfort with change. To become so, students could be encouraged to join organizations outside their comfort zone. This could lead to a greater comfort with change and become a mandatory facet of Greek Life at NCSU. Since change is often ranked in the low to mid-range within constructs, recommendations to increase comfort with change are likely to be appropriate at many universities. GLOs are well-suited to providing diversification of opportunities as well as role models who have survived the tumult of the first years of college.
Citizenship is the ability to render leadership in a community setting and how an individual becomes connected to the community through activity (SRLS Guidebook, 2009); and, was in the top third of the ranked mean scores (4.14). These results are different from some studies (Dugan, 2006a, 2006b; Dugan, 2008) but similar to others (Wedel, Goodman, Chen, & Wingenbach, n.d.; Dugan & Komives, 2010). These researchers concluded that providing leadership in a community setting and becoming connected to the community are highly perceived endeavors by this population.
The students’ score in the citizenship construct could be influenced by their age and lack of formal civic engagement. Encouragement to become involved with advocacy groups about which they are passionate, in order to experience working for the rights of others, is recommended. Further, service learning projects, particularly those with a community focus, can contribute to a growing sense of citizenship. For many, college life provides a broad introduction to opportunities and responsibilities regarding civic engagement. Most GLOs require a community service component to a member’s duties. Members have a pre-established civic duty, and through GLO guidance can grow, develop, and become impassioned about their community roles.
Collaboration is working with others, to multiply group effectiveness, by capitalizing on various talents and diversity of members (SRLS Guidebook, 2009); and, ranked near the middle of the mean scores. However, students still perceived themselves as collaborative because of the high score. Dugan and Komives (2010) found that collaboration is influenced by membership in clubs, GLOs, and sports, so it follows that this group scored collaboration as it did.
Interestingly, students indicated a level of neutrality when asked about trusting the people with whom they work. College forces students to work with many different people. Much like with change, students are learning to operate in an environment where ideas, opinions, and philosophies different than their own exist. Because of unfamiliarity with people with whom they interact, students may still be developing the skills needed for forming trustful relationships. The concepts of consensus, collaboration, and compromise could be demonstrated and should be developed in the successful GLOs. More needs to be done to support collaboration between each class of members. It is recommended to give these students the opportunity to utilize their collaborative skills, experienced members need to discuss with NMs how all can work together to improve the organization. As understanding and facilitating collaboration is a core tenet of much leadership theory and practice, GLOs are in a prime position to develop this disposition and therefore the leadership development strengths of their members.
Commitment is an individual having a significant investment in an idea or person (SRLS Guidebook, 2009); and, was the highest ranked construct (4.44). This is similar to Dugan, (2006a, 2006b), Gehrke, (2008), and Dugan (2008). The highest scored item of the instrument was also in this construct; students indicated a willingness to devote time and energy to things important to them (4.55). These students perceive themselves able to commit to organizations they value.
It is not surprising that this population rated the construct of commitment high. Greek Life, at its core, is a significant commitment for students. During recruitment, GLOs discuss and emphasize the membership obligations. NMs make a conscious decision to join. Thusly, this population may be more likely to be comfortable with the idea of commitment. Since commitment is a large component of Greek Life, and the results of this study imply that this population values commitment, the recommendation would be to continue the commitment exercises and practices that have nurtured student commitment to GLOs.
Common Purpose is an individual’s ability to work in a group with shared aims to envision the groups’ purpose (SRLS Guidebook, 2009); and, ranked in the top third of constructs (4.18). This finding is similar only to Wedel, et al. (n.d.). These students perceive themselves as willing to have shared aims and values, and wanting to build a group vision.
Each GLO has a unique mission and goals. NMs are informed early on and are expected to work alongside senior members to accomplish these goals. It is not surprising that this construct was highly scored. Additionally, NMs have less seniority in the organization, so are more likely to follow the leaders in the group, which may seem like working toward common purpose. To facilitate the cooperation of leadership among a variety of individuals, it is suggested that programs on cooperation and synergy be made available for all GLOs. Group projects should be encouraged. For example, instead of an individualized competition during Homecoming, where a single sorority is paired with a single fraternity, many groups could work together and contribute to a common philanthropic goal instead of just a spirit competition. Activities related to philanthropy, which requires all students to work toward a common goal, should happen regularly to give students an opportunity to further hone skills.
Congruence is an individual value and illustrates one’s ability to act in ways consistent with one’s values and beliefs; and, was ranked the second highest leadership construct (4.23). These students perceive their actions are consistent with their values.
College tends to be a time of discovery, where students are solidifying identity, beliefs and values. In so doing, they are determining how their values are different and separate, or similar, from those of their friends and family. In short, as they affirm what their values are, that influences their ability to act on a value set. Because this group also has a set of values from their particular GLO that is consistently reinforced, this may contribute to their ability to act in conjunction with their values. Though the rating was high, students should all be presented with opportunities to discover their own unique identities and values. It is recommended that NMs be encouraged to take advantage of programs that help individuals discover their values, talents, and persona. GLOs should facilitate programs that help members see how group mission, vision, and values can be congruent with members’ personal values.
At its core congruence may be interpreted as one of the main non-academic goals of college. The years before are often filled with group-think and the peer pressure of running with the crowd. Adulthood requires a certain independence and individuality. Successful adults, and successful leaders, are able to be who they are; to demonstrate behaviors that coincide with their beliefs. Interestingly, GLOs may provide the safe setting needed for a student to develop the internal fortitude that is congruence and even integrity.
Consciousness of self is being aware of personal beliefs, values, attitudes, and emotions that motivate an individual to react (SRLS Guidebook, 2009); and, was scored in the middle third of the constructs (4.08). However, the score still indicates that students believe they know themselves well and are passionate about their priorities. The lowest scoring item on the questionnaire was in this construct, “I have low self-esteem.” This is negatively worded, which implies they do not have low self-esteem. GLOs seem to attract a certain type of student. Confidence is highly valued. It is not surprising that these students do not have low self-esteem. Since students perceive themselves as self confident, the recommendation would be to continue current practices that encourage consciousness of self.
Controversy with civility is recognizing that differences in viewpoints are inevitable, and that these differences must be handled civilly (SRLS Guidebook, 2009); and, was ranked in the middle third of the constructs (3.8). These results are consistent with Dugan (2006a, 2006b, 2008) where Controversy with civility scored similarly. This population, while neutral with regard to conflict, perceive themselves as open to others’ ideas.
Neutral scores may be attributed to the experience level this population, likely college freshmen. As individuals mature, behavioral expectations for dealing with conflict require a higher degree of civility, with which they may be unfamiliar. Provide programs that allow students to gain experience with appropriate confrontation skills. Conflict management, dealing with difficult people, negotiation skills, and listening programs could have a positive impact on the skill set of this group of students.
Recommendations for practice primarily focus on creating and providing additional leadership development opportunities for students. Recommendations for research include a longitudinal study to observe this population over time. This study should be replicated using this and other research designs, for example, including a posttest or posttest/then to determine if there has been dispositional change. A look into other variables including race, gender, age, major, etc. within this population may further shed light into the nuances of the newest members of GLOs which leads to a greater ability to provide appropriate educational and growth opportunities. Finally, a qualitative study to describe in more depth the constructs would be beneficial.
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