Examining Developmental Stages of Leadership for College Students: A Validation Study of the Leadership Identity Development Model

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The purpose of this study was to confirm or disconfirm the leadership identity development (LID) model (Komives, Longerbeam, Owen, Mainella, & Osteen, 2006). The LID model identified six stages in the development of a leadership identity. Although used widely to inform the design of leadership development programs, it has not been validated by further research. This study used Q methodology to classify subjects with similar views of leadership into groups. The resulting groups were congruent with the stages of the LID model that are most frequently experienced during the college years.

Thirty-nine subjects described their points of view about leadership and themselves as leaders through a 64-item card sort, placing the cards into piles along a continuum from strongly disagree to strongly agree. Principle components analysis was used to classify subjects into groups based on similarities in the card sorts. The way each of the four resulting groups described leadership was interpreted by examination of an aggregate card sort representing the views of the students in that group. These descriptions were compared to the stages of the LID model.

Factor one from this study was similar to stages four through six of the LID model. There was no evidence distinguishing these three stages from each other in this subject sample. Factor two was similar to stage three with an independent view of self with others. Factor three was similar to stage three with a dependent view of self with others. Factor four had only a single subject, whose description did not readily fit into the LID model.

Further research is needed to examine the LID stages experienced pre-college, as well as further exploration into whether LID stages four through six are truly distinct. However, the findings of this study do provide support for the existence of the stages of development most often experienced during the college years (stages three and four) as described in the LID model.