Leadership Identity Development

Leadership Identity Development: Challenges in Applying a Developmental Model

Leadership Identity

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.

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