Understanding your Developing Leadership Identity
Analysis and Critique of Literature
A review of the article entitled “Developing a Leadership Identity: A Grounded Theory”, written by Komives, Mainella, Owen, Osteen, and Longerbeam (2005). In their research, Komives, et al (2005) began by making distinctions between the old and new definition of leadership. They referenced the old definition which is described as an industrial era definition which looks at traits and behaviors. It is then stated that there is a new definition that is knowledge based and post industrial. This definition of leadership deals more with collaboration, ethical actions, moral purpose and transformational processes. The relational leadership model is the grounded theory used in this study. The relational process is defined as “people coming together with the attempt to accomplish change or make a difference to benefit the common good” (Komives, et al, p. 594). It is believed that in order to produce an effective leadership development program, one must first understand the process of becoming a leader or how one creates a leadership identity.
Summary of the Research
This article outlines a case study in leadership identity. “A case study investigates a leadership phenomenon within its real –life context especially when the boundaries between the phenomenon and the context are not clearly defined” ( Klenke, 2008, p. 59).
The study in this article was conducted using 13 college students. The students who were invited to participate in the study were extremely diverse. There were different races, ages, sexual orientations, religious affiliations and different college majors involved. Next the students were required to engage in three series of one to two hour interviews using a structured interview protocol. During the interview process, students were asked to reflect on their early life experiences as a leader and how they felt that they have changed. The interview team then sought feedback on the interpretations of the data and conducted constant comparative analysis of the data so that they could better understand the meaning. In order to analyze the data, a coding process was used to categorize and organize the concepts. Through this process of data collection, there were found to be four developmental influencers’ that fostered the development of leadership identity.
The first was adult influences. Parents, family members, teachers, community leaders and other adults help to mold and influence the lives of young people. One participant indicated that her family helped her to build character. Another indicated that teachers and schools created safe places where communication was fostered. Another indicated that it was important to have several combinations of influencing adults and that drawing different qualities from different people was important. It was also recognized that adults are the first ones to recognize leadership potential and abilities and to help set high expectations for those individuals. Role modeling is also very important as leadership identity is formulating. With all of these external affirmations in place, eventually this ability becomes intrinsic; however adults continue to be important at different stages of the development process.
The second influencer is peer influences. Peers and friends can serve as motivators on the path to early leadership identity. They can be a valuable source of influence and support. Older peers were cited as being an especially great source of affirmation. In the abstract, Tapping Youth as Agents for Change: Evaluation of a Peer Leadership HIV/AIDS Intervention, a Quasi-experiment was conducted on 235 adolescents. The results of the experiment showed that those who participated as peer leaders gained knowledge and skills that allowed them the ability to develop a view of themselves as individuals who could make a change in their community (Pearlman, et al, 2002).
The next influencer is meaningful involvement. Being involved in different groups and organizations help to clarify ones values, interests and new skill levels. The opportunity to relate and interact with diverse groups of peers also served to be helpful. It was also indicated that being part of a team, such as sports teams, teaches one to understand the importance of team work and that what one person can affects others. It also helps youth to understand that it’s not just about them. Being involved in groups provided rich opportunities for the participants to learn the importance of developing relationships with their peers and adults outside of their family.
Finally, reflective learning was indicated as being an influence of leadership identity formation. Being able to reflect through writing and conversations was indicated as being key in helping to grow as a leader. An example of earlier experiences could be at home with family around the family table. Some prefer to use journaling as a way of writing their thoughts on paper and sharing those thoughts with others as a way of reflecting. A couple of participants remembered having this reflective learning experience while taking part in training or courses. Through this training and or coursework, they were able to be exposed to various languages and theories pertaining to leadership that was found to be helpful. One participant even felt that taking part in this study helped to support their reflective learning experience.
This study also found that there are five properties of personal or self growth development that change throughout the leadership development process. The first is the deepening of self-awareness. “Self -awareness is not a destination point, but rather an emerging process where one continually comes to understand his or her unique talents, strengths, sense of purpose, core values, beliefs and desires. It can include having a basic and fundamental awareness of one’s knowledge, experience, and capabilities” (Douglas, 2011). Participants recalled that family and peers helped them to identify areas of themselves that needed growth and also those areas where they saw strengths. After growing and maturing they were then able to identify those areas on their own. Students of color identified race as being a factor in how they were able to see themselves in the developing process. Gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation also played a role in how some approached the leadership process. Some tried not to think about it too much, some thought it was an advantage and some felt that it could be a barrier based on other people’s perception. Several of the white participants were able to identify that they indeed held a position of privilege when it came to how they were perceived as emerging leaders. Personal values and integrity were other aspects of deepening self-awareness that were discussed by the participants in this study. “Becoming aware of who we are, both our strengths and weaknesses, as individuals is key to personal development. To effectively lead others, one must first be able to lead themselves” (Neck & Manz, 2007).
There was a research study focused on the dimension of developing self with reference to leadership identity. Personal Growth Project (PGP) was used to help students develop their sense of self through experiential learning activities. This method gives learners an opportunity to reflect on and observe experiences. Students are provided with developmentally appropriate experiences and activities to help and guided them through the complexities of their leadership identity (Odom, 2012).
Building Self-confidence was the second of the five properties of personal growth. Having the approval and support of family, friends, and teachers was also viewed as part of helping one to develop their leadership identity. Hearing encouraging words and receiving that gentle push from those who really cared, helped to make them feel that they mattered and boosted the self-confidence that was needed. Once self-confidence was built, they were able to take risks and try new things. Having self-confidence enables an emerging leader to take a stand regardless of the opposition.
Establishing Interpersonal Efficacy is another contributor to the process. Being able to communicate and interact with different types of people was listed as being very important to developing a leadership identity. By doing so one begins to create an understanding and appreciation for other groups of people. Being able to relate to people has a huge effect on the level of influence with people. Most of the participants viewed themselves as being “people persons” that love and appreciate relationships with others.
What was also important in this process is the ability to Apply New Skills. The participants agreed that as they grew in the leadership identity, they saw the need to develop and hone the skills that were necessary to accomplish their jobs. Skills that were noted were; learning to trust others, diversity skills, team-building skills and learning to listen.
Finally, Expanding Motivations is also important to the process. Participants had a need for something meaningful that motivates them beyond themselves.
Group influences was also important in building leadership identity and includes three categories. The first of which is Engaging in Groups. Group engagement is important because it allows individuals to feel that they are part of something and that they have a place to belong. Participants referenced being part of camps and church groups as making them feel that they were in a safe place where they could identify with others that experienced the same issues and struggles and where they could come to learn how to practice in shared leadership. Being part of groups also helps to build trusting relationships. The participants also made it clear that there comes a time when you can grow out of a group because your values and/or objectives may change and are no longer aligned with the make-up of the group. In a study of the influence of fraternity and sorority membership, Cory (2011) found that Active participation in campus organizations was an integral component of the undergraduate student experience. When students were meaningfully involved in serving in these groups, they were able to build healthy relationships with peers, and it also fostered their development of leadership.
At some point it becomes important to narrow down efforts and commitment to only one or a few membership organization. In the category of Membership Continuity, Students felt that it was important to have a “core group” to work within. With this group, over time, you learn to work with those who you initially found hard to get along with. Because you continued to work with and identify with this group, you are able to build morale and create bonds with those individuals. With this continuity one could also find that working together with a group is more effective. One participant initially felt that she had preferred to complete tasks on her own but then learned an important lesson about the power of teamwork. She found that she was more productive when she worked on projects with others.
The last category involved Changing Perceptions of Groups. Initially the participants did not realize that groups had purpose and were not just a conglomerate of friends and people they knew. They began to realize that groups have structure and purpose, a place where they were able to develop their leadership identity. They were able to understand and gain new views of organizational structure and dynamics.
After describing the process that the participants went through to develop their identities though self and group influences, the article goes on to describe the six stages or periods of advancement that one goes through in the process of leadership identity.
The first stage was Awareness of who leaders were. As youngsters growing up, many thought of leadership as being external to themselves. They thought about their parents, the president and other public figures as being leaders but did not understand their personal identity as a leader.
The Exploration/Engagement stage is the stage where one realizes that perhaps they could be like one of these leaders. There is an immersion in group experiences for the sake of making friends but in the process becomes a time of learning to engage with others.
The third stage, Leader Identified, was when the participants viewed leadership as being positional. If you had a position that made you a leader and as a leader one was singlehandedly responsible for the results and outcome of the objectives. This person was also perceived as the person who does most of the work and who is in charge. John C Maxwell, (2011) describes this perception in his book “The 360 Leader” as the position myth. Just because you have a position doesn’t mean you are a leader and you don’t have to have a title/position to be a leader. Leadership is about influence.
During the fourth stage, Leadership Differentiated, participants were able to understand that leadership was a process that involved a group of people. They understood that the group successes depended on all members working together to share responsibilities with the leader. Leadership is a process where you could be both followers and leaders at the same time. They began to understand that leaders are those who facilitate and motivate the members to support and reach the group goals and objectives.
During the state of Generativity, students were interested in reaching back, after being mentored themselves, they are willing to offer the same benefit to others who were developing in their leadership identity. They began to see the larger picture and became committed to promoting and helping the success of future groups and people. This state reminds me of someone growing to be a transformational leadership which was addressed in our textbook, Leadership Theory and Practice. This type of leader was defined as being “attentive to the needs and motives of followers and tries to help followers reach their fullest potential” (Northouse, 2013, p. 186)
Most, but not all of the participants in the study showed that they had also entered the last stage of Integration/synthesis. Being confident that they could adapt and work with diverse people in different context as leader or not. They wanted to continue to actively engage in the daily process of leadership.
What we had labeled as leadership in the past was actually good management. The definition of leadership has changed from an industrial era perception to more of a knowledge based ideal that considers advancements in technology, globalization, collaboration and transformation.
Leadership is a stage process. As the students navigated through all of the stages, they experienced a changing view of themselves and a broadening view of leadership. How we grow and learn as leaders has much to do with not only personal awareness but individual and group interactions and influences. Leadership identity is a unique process that is developed over time and is discovered through a process of observation and reflection.
Tina Oliver, M.Ed.
Early Childhood Training, Resource and Consulting
Tina Oliver, M.Ed.
Early Childhood Training, Resource and Consulting
Cory, A.J., (2011) The Influence Of Fraternity Or Sorority Membership On The Leadership
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