Tim O. Peterson, Ph.D., Claudette M. Peterson, Ed.D. 10.12806/V11/I1/RF6
Introduction and Background
Student leadership is a buzzword on most university campuses in both curricular and co-curricular settings. Many business schools declare in their mission statements that they are developing leaders, ethical leaders, or business leaders (Texas A&M University, 2010; Rutgers University, 2010; Pepperdine University, 2010). Leadership scholars have published journal articles (Eich, 2008) and books claiming that leadership can be taught (Northouse, 2010; Parks, 2005). Several books have recently been published that focus specifically on student leadership (Komives, Lucas, & McMahon, 2007; Kouzes & Posner, 2008; Roberts, 2007; Shankman & Allen, 2008).
Student affairs offices declare that students who participate in student organizations are developing leadership abilities – or at least getting leadership experience. There is a whole industry that caters to student leadership development programs such as Leadershape (2010), LeadAmerica (2010), and Dance Floor Theory (Swift Kick, 2010). However, a tendency to slap the label leadership on programs not grounded in leadership theory or leadership development exists (Boyd, 2011).
Kelling and Hoover (2005) posit that students can develop leadership capacity within student-based clubs and organizations. However, Roberts (2007) indicates that recent research demonstrates that the leadership learning that was assumed to be taking place in student organizations may not have been happening at the level believed. The real question is: What do these student leaders really need to learn so that they can lead while in college and also lead in the future when they enter the workforce?
This paper will first develop the literature around the topic of managerial leadership, describe the methodology used to conduct this empirical study, then present the results followed by a discussion of the findings. This paper will conclude with limitations and future research on this topic.
It is important to differentiate between a leader and a manager. A manager has an official position within an organization while a leader does not necessarily hold an official position (Kouzes & Posner, 2002). A manager, by holding an official position within the organization, becomes accountable to achieve the organization’s objectives; that individual also receives from the organization specific capacities to influence that are reserved for managers (Peterson & Van Fleet, 2008). On the other hand, a person who does not hold an official position within the organization can still influence members of the organization and by so doing influence the direction of the organization. In order to do this, the person must use personal capacities to influence, since that individual does not have organizational capacities. This is leadership in its purest sense. In summary, a person can be a manager without being a leader. Conversely, a person who is not a manager and has no official power can exhibit leadership. It is also possible to be a manager and exhibit both managerial behavior and leadership behavior; an individual who does this is called a managerial leader.
When students who hold an official role in a student organization are discussed on a university campus they are almost always referred to as student leaders rather than student managers. However, they must both manage and lead to be successful in advancing their student organizations toward their objectives. If the only thing they are taught is leadership they are sure to fail, just as they would fail if the only thing they were taught was management. It would be more accurate to describe these students as student managerial leaders. That is, students who hold official positions within the organization, have decision making authority over resources, and are held accountable for the organization’s objectives must function as managers but still attempt to influence the behaviors of the members through establishing a compelling purpose, being credible, exhibiting expertise, and holding the members and themselves accountable to the values and guiding principles of the organization (Peterson & Van Fleet, 2008). This led to the research question that drove this research: What managerial leadership behaviors are essential for student managerial leaders?
All student leaders are assigned responsibility for achievement of the student organization’s objectives through the ethical, effective, and efficient use of the organization’s resources. This cannot be done with only leadership abilities. It also requires managerial abilities. In this study, student managerial leaders are students who (a) hold official positions in a student organization, (b) have legitimate authority such that they have decision-making power over student organizational resources, (c) are held accountable for achieving the student organization’s objectives by student organizational advisors or at least the university, and (d) they attempt to influence others through leadership behaviors. Therefore, these individuals are both managers and leaders. While Katz (1955) argued that different levels of managerial leaders need different amounts of three broad skills (i.e., technical, human, and conceptual), in this study we do not make this distinction. Future research might examine this issue once we have identified the critical managerial leader behaviors desired in student organizations.
Leadership research has been conducted in a variety of contexts. “Military and civil organizations alike have long realized the importance of leadership development in achieving greater overall organizational productivity” (Fine, 2007, p. 66). Boyd (2011) states “there is a need for leadership education/development programs at every level of society, from youth to business executives” (¶ 9). However, often what is defined as leadership development is really managerial development. It is important that leadership educators are clear about the managerial leadership development taking place since managerial behaviors only work in specific situations and other situations require leadership behaviors.
Yukl and Van Fleet (1982) conducted the seminal piece of research that focused specifically on managerial leadership behaviors. They collected their data from the perspective of the subordinates serving in the military. The findings determined that, no matter what the situation, subordinates reported that they wanted their managerial leaders to exhibit the following behaviors: performance emphasis, inspiration, and role clarification (Van Fleet & Yukl, 1986). In specific situations such as a crisis or day-to-day operations the subordinates want their managerial leaders to exhibit additional context-specific behaviors but that is in addition to the three behaviors listed above. These findings, while valuable, also have some significant limitations. As Baruch (1998) points out, it is a limitation that these findings were collected in a military environment. Since this earlier study, Peterson and Van Fleet have extended this work to for-profit organizations (2003), to not-for-profit organizations (2008), and to information technology professionals (Peterson, Brewster, Beard, & Van Fleet, 2005). In every study there is a critical set of managerial leadership behaviors that is identified regardless of the situational factors. This study extends the research stream by surveying members of student organizations to identify which behaviors are desired in student managerial leaders.
The participants were 720 student constituents from 41 different student organizations on a large southwest university campus. They were recruited by convenience sampling (Creswell, 2005; Gay & Airasian, 2000). In this case, the surveys were distributed by students in an undergraduate leadership class. Students enrolled in the leadership class were each asked to distribute 25 copies of the survey to members of the student organization(s) in which they participated. Students who were members of the leadership class did not complete a survey themselves but rather had other members of the student organization complete the surveys. None of the participants who responded to the survey were officers in the student organization nor did they hold any other formal position within the organization. Each participants was asked to complete a one-page questionnaire on the topic of managerial leadership and then to answer a few demographic questions. No extra credit was extended to these participants for their involvement in the study. The completed surveys were returned to the instructor and the data was used in class to inform the students within the class on the critical managerial leadership behaviors desired by organizational student constituents.
This study used the Managerial Leadership Instrument (MLI) was based on an earlier instrument, the Management Practices Survey (MPS). The MPS was developed by Yukl and Nemeroff (1979) and Yukl, Wall, and Lepsinger (1990). It used a Likert scale to identify important managerial leadership behaviors. A thorough review of the literature since that time uncovered four additional managerial leadership behaviors that had not been included in the MPS. These four behaviors were included in the MLI and tested by Peterson and Van Fleet (2005). In that study all four behaviors were identified by subjects as being important behaviors for MLI. The MLI includes a total of 25 managerial behaviors. Validity and reliability for the MLI were reported in an earlier work (Peterson & Van Fleet, 2003). The MLI has been used in several studies in various organizational contexts: for-profit (Peterson, Brewster, Beard & Van Fleet, 2005; Peterson & Van Fleet, 2003), not-for-profit (Peterson & Van Fleet, 2008), and military (Yukl & Van Fleet, 1982) studies.
The paper-based MLI used in this study was printed on both sides of a single page. The front of the page listed the 25 managerial leadership behaviors. It did not use a Likert scale. The instructions at the top of the page acknowledged that all of the behaviors listed here were important in some way to achieve the organization’s purpose. The participants were then instructed to mark 10 of the 25 behaviors (40%) that they believed to be critical for the student organization to achieve its purpose. They were not asked to rank order the behaviors by perceived importance. This is consistent with Kouzes and Posner’s (2010) method of collecting data for their three-decade study on credibility. The back of the document asked for demographic information such as age, gender, class year, academic major, and the student organization in which they were a member. A copy of the instrument can be obtained from the first author.
The statistical analysis was conducted using SPSS. After the data set was created, it was checked for errors. Next, consistent with Tukey’s (1977) advice to get to know your data, we produced a series of descriptive and exploratory data analyses to examine the data. We used SPSS’s Explore function to determine outliers, unusual values, and peculiarities in the data set. Each finding was traced back to the original questionnaire and was corrected before any further analysis was done.
After the exploratory examination, we used the SPSS Frequencies tool under Descriptive Statistics to first examine the frequency of selection for each of the managerial leadership behaviors. Next, we used the inference about a proportion as presented in Ott (1984) to identify the critical managerial leadership behaviors.
The mean age of the participants was 20 years with a range from 17 to 29 years of age. Thirty-three percent of the sample was male and 67% female. This is consistent with the current enrollment pattern at this specific university. Twenty- four percent of the subjects were freshmen, 29% were sophomores, 28% were juniors, 18% seniors, and 1% fifth-year seniors. Students representing 91 different majors and 41 different student organizations took part in the study.
Frequency scores for each managerial leadership behavior are reported in Table 1. The table contains only abbreviated descriptions of the behavioral statements which are depicted in bold type within the instrument itself. For example, the first entry in Table 1 names builds trust (is credible) as the managerial leadership behavior; the entire phrase is “Student leader has a presence about him or her that builds trust, commands attention, is authentic, and credible.” The behaviors are listed in the order of descending frequency. The table shows that there are positive values in all cells. This result supports the contention that all of the managerial leadership behaviors are important to at least some of the participants. If the subjects felt all of the behaviors were equally important, we would have found the same number of marks by each behavior [(720 subjects X 10 marks per subject)/25 behaviors=288 marks by each behavior]. Examination of Table 1 shows that this is not true. Therefore, some managerial leadership behaviors are believed to be critical by more participants than are others.
The next step was to identify the critical few from the important many managerial leadership behaviors. We did this by calculating an upper confidence coefficient equal to three standard deviations using Ott’s (1984) formula for determining confidence coefficients for proportions. All subjects were asked to select (but not rank order) 10 of the 25 behaviors on the MLI (40%). We then calculated the upper confidence coefficient representing the 95% confidence area. The test value (.40 + (3 x .018)) was calculated at 45.5%. In the Kouzes and Posner (1993) original credibility study, they focused on the personal traits and characteristics that were identified as crucial by more than 50% of the responding managers. To ensure that we were conservative in our identification of critical behaviors, we rounded the calculated percentage of 45.5% value to 50%. Therefore, all frequency percent values that are equal to or exceed 50% are considered critical. Those critical managerial leadership behaviors that meet this criterion are highlighted in Table 1.
Table 1: Prevalence of Managerial Leadership Behaviors (N = 720)
Builds trust (is credible)
Takes the initiative (solves problems)
Is friendly and considerate
Stimulates enthusiasm (inspires)
Informs about responsibilities
Keeps employees informed
Creates a clear and compelling direction
Provides praise and recognition
Gets employees to be friendly with each other
Coordinates the work
Rewards performance (motivates)
Restrains employees from arguing
Determines training needs
Identifies and enforces the norms
Note. The bolded entries identify behaviors that were judged to be critical managerial leadership behaviors. The word(s) in parentheses is the more common way of expressing this behavior.
Eight of the 25 managerial leadership behaviors in the instrument were identified as critical by participants in this study. The behavior identified most often as critical by study participants (75.7%) is shown in the tables as builds trust, is credible. The extended behavioral statement is “Student leader has a presence about him or her that builds trust, commands attention, is authentic, and credible.” This is supported by the extensive leadership research done by Kouzes and Posner who claim that “credibility is the foundation of leadership” (2002, p. 32). Being credible makes the student managerial leader a believable source of information.
One characteristic that Kouzes and Posner’s research (2002) identifies as necessary to establish credibility is honesty. This is consistent with Martin’s (2010) interviews with top executives and Kelling and Hoover (2005) findings from student collegiate clubs and organizations in the Ukraine. When they were asked what makes a leader credible, heading the list was honesty and integrity. Keyton and Smith (2009) cite several sources identifying trust as a necessary characteristic of managers in order for an organization to be effective. Scandura and Pellegrini (2008) agree that trust is necessary in a supervisor-subordinate relationship in order to have high quality work outcomes.
The managerial leadership behavior labeled in the tables as stimulates enthusiasm, inspires was identified as critical by 58.8% of study participants. The extended behavioral statement is “Student leader stimulates enthusiasm among organizational members for the work and builds members confidence in their ability to perform assignments successfully.” The behavior definition stimulates enthusiasm is related to the abstract concept of inspiration. This supports the findings of Kouzes and Posner (1993) who also found that inspiration is what constituents want from their leaders. It was not surprising that these two sets of behaviors related to credibility and inspiration were identified as critical. After surveying 25,000 people on three different occasions Kouzes and Posner (2002) found that 64% of respondents identified inspiration as one of the critical characteristics that established a leader’s credibility. While inspiration consistently appears as a critical aspect of managerial leadership, very little empirical research has been done on this topic.
Another managerial leadership behavior identified as critical by 62.8% of participants in the current study is shown in the tables as is friendly and considerate. The extended behavioral statement is “Student leader is friendly, supportive, and considerate in his or her behavior toward organizational members and tried to be fair and objective.” This is consistent with the findings of Yukl, Gordon, and Taber (2002) which again confirm the importance of consideration. It is interesting to note that consideration is one of the first two leadership behaviors identified as far back as the 1950s in the Ohio State Studies. Halpin (1957) identified this as a primary behavior of Air Force officers, and Fleishman (1957) identified it as a primary behavior of supervisors in for-profit organizations. The implication for the student managerial leader is that student members of their organization want to be treated supportively and fairly. They want a managerial leader who is friendly and is concerned about them. If student managerial leaders exhibit this type of behavior they build up an emotional bank account for the crisis moments when they may not have as much time to focus on relationships with the student members.
The managerial leadership behavior identified as critical by 63.2% of participants was takes initiative (solves problems). The extended behavioral statement is “Student leader takes the initiative in proposing solutions to serious work-related problems and acts decisively to deal with such problems when a prompt solution is needed.”
This may seem contradictory since 53.2% of participants identified delegates authority as a critical behavior of student managerial leaders. The extended behavioral statement for this behavior is “Student leader delegates authority and responsibility to organizational members and allows them to determine how to do their work.”
This is not necessarily contradictory, because it appears that the type of problems they want their student managerial leaders to solve are usually the complex, ambiguous, unstructured, and knotty problems that are unexpected and require quick resolution (Weick, 2002). When these types of problems arise a crisis can occur. Crises call for both strong cognitive ability and a strong will to act since there are irreversible losses on the line. Under these circumstances, student constituents are anxious and want their managerial leaders to take initiative and act decisively. Weiss (2002) reports that the most important behavior in regulating this anxiety is a clear-thinking leader.
Mitroff (1998) and Heifetz (1994) have both found that those managerial leaders who can challenge us to face problems, formulate solutions, and inspire us to learn new ways are what people are looking for in a crisis situation. However, in a non-crisis situation, organizational members want to have the opportunity to do the work and learn to solve more routine problems. The implication for the student managerial leader is that the ability to solve problems needs to be developed in themselves and in subordinate organizational members.
As part of learning how to solve problems, student managerial leaders need to also learn how to inform organizational members about their responsibilities in implementing the solution to the problem and how to keep organizational members informed about progress toward completion. These are two additional managerial leadership behaviors identified as critical by the subjects in this study. Both these behaviors relate to communication; the first (informs about responsibilities) focuses on communication within the student organization while the second (keeps organizational members informed) requires effective communication between the managerial leader, the organization members, other organizations, and school administration.
The behavior listed in the tables as informs about responsibilities was identified by 52.2% of study participants as a critical behavior. The extended behavioral statement is “Student leader informs organizational members about their duties and responsibilities, specifies the rules and policies that must be observed, and lets members know what is expected of them.” As Bennis and Goldsmith (1994) posit, informing organizational members about their responsibilities is how leaders translate their purpose into actions. Yukl and Van Fleet (1982) call it role clarification. Kouzes and Posner (2008) argue that it is the first step in helping others to act.
The behavior listed as keeps organizational members informed was identified by 50.3% of participants as a critical behavior. The extended behavioral statement is “Student leader keeps organizational members informed about developments that affect their work, including events in other student organizations or outside the organization, and decisions made by higher administration.” Just as people need to know what is expected of them as described above, they also need feedback on the organizational objectives and the progress being made. Organizational member also need to be kept informed on external forces that could affect their efforts. The leader so often acts as a liaison to the external stakeholders of the organization while organization members focus on the immediate tasks at hand. Therefore, it is important for the leader to remember to share this information with the members of the organization.
The managerial leadership behavior identified as critical by study participants (62.1%) is shown in the tables as builds team. The extended behavioral statement is “Student leader builds and maintains a strong effective team that recognizes the importance of shared purpose and mutual accountability.” In classroom settings and student organizations, the word team is often used indiscriminately when perhaps the word group would be more accurate. The definition of team used in this situation is that of Katzenbach and Smith (1993) that for a group of people to come together and form a team they had to have a clear performance challenge that was translated into a shared purpose.
Without the other critical behaviors, effective teamwork will not occur. For example the student managerial leader must be credible in order to bring a compelling purpose to the members and to inspire them to coalesce into an effective team. The ability to translate the shared purpose into individual team member responsibilities and the ability to provide feedback and information to the team members assists in holding the team together. It is not surprising that Katzenbach and Smith (1993) found that interpersonal skill is one of the key competencies required in a team. Anderson (2002) argues that managerial leaders must be proactive and build their team before a crisis occurs. The team cannot be built during a crisis; it must be built during the stable times and then maintained during the crisis.
There is a clear implication in this study for management and leadership educators. Table 2 shows the eight managerial leadership behaviors identified by student constituents as critical from the 25 behaviors listed in the study. Columns two, three, and four show whether these same managerial leadership behaviors were identified in the for-profit (Peterson, Brewster, Beard, & Van Fleet, 2005; Peterson & Van Fleet, 2003), the not-for-profit (Peterson & Van Fleet, 2008), and the military (Yukl & Van Fleet, 1982) studies.
Managerial Behaviors of Critical Importance – Comparison of Results of Four Studies
Managerial Leadership Behavior
Builds trust (is credible)
Takes initiative (solves problems)
Is friendly and considerate
Stimulates enthusiasm (inspires)
Informs about responsibilities
Keeps employees informed
Note. N/A notation indicates that managerial behaviors Builds teams and Builds trust (Is credible) were only identified after the military study was conducted.
It may seem strange to readers that building teams and is credible are not listed as managerial leadership behaviors identified by subordinates in the military setting. In fact, those are new managerial leadership behaviors that have been identified since the military study was conducted and included in the later research. If this study were repeated today with those two behaviors included as options, it is difficult to imagine that military members would not want their leaders to exhibit both team-building behavior and credibility, but that is a topic for future research. Vogelaar (2007) notes that since the Cold War changes in the military environment have led to the need for changes in leadership styles. Since it has been almost three decades since the original research by Yukl and Van Fleet (1982), perhaps it is time to replicate the original study with the additional managerial leadership behaviors included in the instrument.
However, the implication in the present study for management and leadership educators is very real. If we teach the eight managerial leader behaviors identified in Table 2 to our student managerial leaders in the classroom and allow them to practice these behaviors in their student organizations, it would pay dividends for these students when they enter the workforce, whether that is in the for-profit, not-for-profit, or military sector. This is an important implication of this study.
A variety of leadership development courses could be developed around these eight behaviors. For example a freshmen/sophomore course for aspiring student managerial leaders could be developed to introduce and practice the eight critical behaviors identified in Table 2. The topic of credibility could be introduced and practiced using the book Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It (Kouzes & Posner, 2011). Problem solving could be introduced using an instrument such as the Creative Problem Solving Profile (Basadur, Graen, & Wakabayashi, 1990). This instrument allows individuals to identify their own problem solving preference, but also has implications for formation of effective teams (Basadur & Head, 2001). Although these are just two of the critical behaviors identified, the rest could also be incorporated in a class like this.
A follow-up course for students who actually assume a managerial leadership role could be offered in which the students would apply and reflect upon their experience while serving in an official position in a student organization. This course would allow students to share their experiences while at the same time continuing to develop their managerial leadership behaviors. These types of classes might help us realize Robert’s (2007) desire for a more purposeful and useful leadership development program for students.
All studies have limitations; this study is no exception. While the sample is an adequate size, all of the subjects were drawn from one southwest university. While all of the subjects were members of student organizations, additional subjects from other universities would help to make this more generalizable.
In addition, an early reviewer suggested that it would be an improvement to have respondents actually rank order the 10 managerial leadership behaviors that they select as critical. In order to be consisted with data collected in previous studies using this instrument, rank order was not used in this study. However, in another study currently underway, the participants have been asked to rank order their choices by importance in order to better clarify this stream of research.
Finally, empirical research focused on inspiration would significantly advance the field of leadership. It is interesting to note that most management textbooks today have at least one chapter on motivation and no chapters on inspiration. We need to develop this critical research stream so future managerial leaders can be trained to both motivate and inspire
This research extends the seminal work of Yukl and Van Fleet (1982) as well as the work of Peterson and Van Fleet (2003, 2008). The present research is only a first step to examine the critical managerial leadership behaviors required by student managerial leaders. An additional step might be to replicate the process that Yukl and Van Fleet (1982) used in their military study. They collected critical incidents from military members and used content analysis to identify managerial leadership behaviors exhibited by military leaders. Collecting critical incidents from managerial leaders and members in student organization and then conducting a content analysis of these incidents would further triangulate on the critical managerial leadership behaviors. In addition, an analysis of different types of student organizations (e.g., student government, sororities and fraternities, and service organizations) might shed different light on the critical managerial leadership behaviors.
In summary, this research has begun the process of identifying the critical managerial leadership behaviors desired by student constituents. The results show that there are new managerial leadership behaviors such as builds the team and is credible that are critical. This is consistent with the earlier research in the for- profit and not-for-profit fields. But it is only the beginning. Further research will inform those who facilitate student learning in both classroom and co-curricular settings to address issues of managerial leadership that will empower students to lead while they are in college and when they enter the workforce.
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