The leadership project grew out of a desire to
examine differences among college students in both attitudes toward
and behavior regarding the assumption of engaged and responsible roles
in the academic community and the larger social community beyond. The project evolved from the experience of teaching Mansfield
University students in two leadership courses (Leadership
Skills and Advanced
Leadership) and the new First-Year
Students arrive at college with varying degrees
of awareness of or commitment to being engaged citizens and change
agents in the academic community. I
am interested in understanding the component factors in these
attitudes and choices, and how background factors, previous
experience, and the college experience can affect them.
Initially I am interested in understanding what students say
when they first begin their college experience.
The instrument we are using addresses several attitudinal
factors, self-perceptions of leadership qualities, socio-demographic
background factors, and previous behavioral involvement in leadership
and other socially engaged roles.
The Project assumes that “leadership” is a
natural outgrowth of engagement in social/community processes that
have at their core shared interest in improving the lives of people in
their communities. This
kind of leadership should ideally be an imperative of successful
engagement in a liberal arts college education. This project is
grounded in the following assumptions:
development is an imperative
A liberal arts
education equals leadership development
continuously making positive or negative leadership choices
values, experiences and the learning environment determine
Leadership is meant here to include a sense of
responsibility and being an active participant in those groups and
activities that affect the community in which a person lives. Specifically, a student who has a positive attitude toward
leadership not only seeks to participate in the life of the community
but notices when there are needs in the community and accepts
responsibility for making the situation better and meeting those
The leadership literature suggests that
“leadership” as used here …
shared vision & purposes; common good
change through collective action
purposeful and intentional
My working definition of leadership tries to
integrate these concepts:
is a relational process whereby individuals commit to discover and
inspire shared vision and purpose for the common good and then
motivate and implement action to achieve that purpose.
and Origins of Leadership Attitudes
Attitudes of participation and responsibility are
presumed to exist along a hypothetical continuum anchored by apathy
and denial of personal responsibility at one end, to full engagement
and a high level of ownership and personal responsibility, at the
other. Engagement and responsibility will manifest themselves in
action to assist positive change in the groups, organizations, and
activities of the community. The
breadth of these activities or the “importance” of any single
activity is less important than the desire to want to see things
improve and to take ownership for that improvement.
Where a student sits on this continuum is a
function of prior experiences and factors that have shaped the
student’s attitudes in this arena.
Variables such as socio-economic background, previous academic
performance and success in school, self-perception of efficacy, and size and type of home community might affect these attitudes.
The socio-political climate of the student’s earlier
experience could also affect these attitudes.
Culture-based attitudes, shaped by societal norms and values,
might even vary with national origin and be affected by societal
expectations regarding the responsibility of those with resources to
care for those without resources.
Differences in approaches to health care, social
services, levels of poverty, and national policies affecting the
well-being of workers and families could reasonably affect a
person’s attitudes toward “making a difference" in the
experiences, family and community background, and the culture's view
responsibility likewise drive attitudes toward community service and
the notion of “gaining by giving.”
Differences in leadership attitudes should be detectable across
national boundaries and within countries as a function of the various
socio-economic and cultural variables described here.
preliminary typology of leadership attitudes includes:
in the goodness of group, organizational, or institutional
engagement (It’s the “right thing to do”)
in personal responsibility for improving the “community”
(It’s my duty as a citizen)
that improving community groups, organizations, or institutions is
in one’s own self interest
(tangible personal benefits)
that helping others enriches the helper (personal growth benefits)
to be “in charge” (to control outcomes rather than be the
victim of them)
to improve the well-being of those who are less fortunate
Based on the conceptual framework described
above, the Leadership Attitudes Assessment Project began in the Spring
2003 semester and includes the following steps:
- A pilot attitude and experience
assessment instrument was developed in the Spring 2003 semester
and given to 165 college students in Introduction to Psychology
and the First-Year Seminar.
instrument was given to a larger sample of first-year students in the Fall 2003 semester to create a baseline of attitudes
among first-year students. To see the report of the data
analyses from this sample, click here: MU
Leadership Attitudes Report Fall 2003.
A comparison sample
was obtained on the same instrument in the Winter term early in
2004 from Nipissing University in North Bay Ontario. The
results of this sample can be seen in a linked file: MU-Nipissing
Leadership Attitudes Comparison.
process qualitative interview data are being collected from selected
groups of students to better understand the student experience in
each setting and to provide contextual depth to the interpretation
of the data from the quantitative instrument.
Resource information on leadership can be found
via my Links page. Faculty or Student Affairs professionals
interested in this project can contact me in a number of ways – See
the Contact Information page.
- Denny Murray
H. & Astin, A. (Eds.). (2000). Leadership
Reconsidered: Engaging Higher Education in Social Change.
Battle Creek, MI: W.K. Kellogg Foundation.
Bass, B. M. (1990).
Bass and Stogdill’s Handbook of Leadership: Theory, Research, and
Managerial Applications (3rd ed.). New York: Free Press.
Bennis, W. & Nanus, B. Leaders: The Strategies for Taking
Charge. New York: Harper & Row, 1985.
Burns, J.M. (1978). Leadership. New York: Harper & Row.
Ciulla, J.B. (Ed.). (1998). Ethics, The Heart of Leadership.
Westport, CT: Quorum Books.
Heifetz, R.A. (1994). Leadership Without Easy Answers.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
S.R., Lucas, N., & McMahon, T.R. (1998). Exploring
San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
J .M. & Posner, B. Z. (2002). The
Leadership Challenge (3rd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
P.G. (2004). Leadership:
Theory and Practice
(3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA:
J. T. (Ed.). (1995). The Leader's Companion. New York:
The Free Press.