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  • Student Leadership Process Development:An Assessment of Contributing College Resources
  • Michael D. Thompson (bio)

Leadership development is a prominent theme and objective in higher education (Smart, Ethington, Riggs, & Thompson, 2002), especially for residential liberal arts institutions, which tend to emphasize and market the benefits of dual living-and-learning environments that facilitate the cultivation of leadership-related attributes. Evidence of such may be observed in the mission statements of numerous well-respected liberal arts institutions in which leadership development is a focal point (e.g., Beloit College, 2005; Colgate University, 2005; The College of Wooster, 2005; Colorado College, 2005; Davidson College, 2005; Occidental College, 2005).

Despite the holistic nature of emphasizing leadership, in that mission statements are intended to be all-inclusive to the student body, research on leadership development and attributes primarily has been focused on students currently engaged in campus experiences and programs (e.g., student government, [End Page 343] volunteerism) that emulate leadership positions and opportunities that carry over to societal equivalencies (Kezar & Moriarty, 2000; Posner & Brodsky, 1992; Wielkiewicz, 2000). Furthermore, previous research has shown that students' leadership interests and abilities are largely dependent on their entering characteristics, that is, the importance that students attach to their leadership development prior to entering college has a great influence on their participation in leadership-related activities, and subsequently, their behavioral leadership preference development (Smart et al., 2002). Thus, the majority of researchers studying student leadership development have examined students with a predisposition to leadership. In consequence, students who are not active in leadership activities rarely are assessed regarding their leadership-related development, perspectives, or preferences (Cress, Astin, Zimmerman-Oster, & Burkhardt, 2001; Whitt, 1994).

An instrument developed by Wielkiewicz (2000), however, measures how students think about leadership, irrespective of their perceived experience in or predisposition to leadership-based activities or positions. The instrument, the Leadership Attitudes and Beliefs Scale III (LABS-III), contains a scale representing Hierarchical Thinking and another representing Systemic Thinking.

Hierarchical Thinking is based on the traditional top-down leadership structure, in which the upper echelon is in complete control of the decision-making process and, hence, organizational success. Research based on the hierarchical perspective has been concentrated on the effectiveness and efficiency of the individual because hierarchy-based leadership emphasizes the progression and maintenance of one's place and rank within an organization (Bass, 1990; Bolman & Deal, 2003; House & Podsakoff, 1994).

Systemic Thinking, however, emphasizes a highly adaptive environment that depends upon the expertise and influence of organizational members. An organization's success is dependent upon its ability to adjust to rapid and sometimes unexpected changes, which, in turn, is dependent on the quality of communication, cooperation, and cultivation of its members. The basis for the Systemic Thinking scale derives from Allen, Stelzner, and Wielkiewicz's (1998) theory of leadership, which asserts that effective leadership processes must "match the complexity of adaptive challenges and the speed of changing global markets and technological and scientific advancements" (Wielkiewicz, 2000, p. 336). It is further asserted that the adoption of Systemic Thinking by individuals and organizations will yield greater levels of overall adaptability, success, and sustainability.

The central purpose of this study is to explore students' disposition regarding leadership etiquette, behavior, and method in the context of Allen et al.'s (1998) leadership process theory. For this study, the attributed contributions from various college resources, as well as students' American College Test scores and college grade point averages were examined in relation to differences in leadership behavioral preferences. As noted in previous studies, engagement with college resources (e.g., cocurricular and coursework activities and interactions) has a significant influence on the differential patterns of student learning and growth (e.g., Pace, 1980; Pascarella & Terenzini, 2005; Smart, Feldman, & Ethington, 2000; Thompson, 2001, 2003).



This study was based on a census sample of juniors and seniors at a private liberal arts [End Page 344] institution with an approximate enrollment of 1,800 students located in the Midwest United States. Upper division students were selected for this study because of their length of exposure to college resources and opportunities.

Via electronic mail invitation, 809 students were asked to complete a Web-based version of the LABS-III. The instrument was...


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