Community college women leaders' experiences of the role of a leadership development program in advancing to the presidency

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Community college leadership in America is facing an impending crisis, with the projected retirement of a significant percentage of community college presidents within the next 10 years. This leadership crisis looms just as colleges are facing significant transformation that educes a need for visionary leaders who exhibit the transformational leadership skills needed for the 21st century, which research suggests largely reflects women’s leadership style. However, a lack of gender equity continues to plague the highest leadership levels, with men continuing to dominate at the community college presidency. Although research suggests that leadership programs that prepare aspiring women leaders for the presidency could lead to important gains in gender equity, too few women are advancing through the leadership pipeline despite attending such programs.
The purpose of this study was to explore the perceived effectiveness of a leadership development program predicated on the American Association of Community College (AACC) leadership competencies in preparing women leaders for a community college presidency in the 21st century. The study setting was four very large Texas public community colleges that were AACC members, and participants for the study were seven women community college leaders who had attended the AAWCC LEADERS Institute, a formal leadership development program for women based on the AACC leadership competencies. Data collection consisted primarily of semi-structured interviews, observations, and documents. The data collected were analyzed using the constant comparative method. The findings of this study indicated that women leaders who attended the AAWCC LEADERS Institute perceived that the training had prepared them for advancement to a presidency, and the training positively impacted their desire to ascend to a presidency that was often short-lived. Also, while many of the AACC’s core leadership competencies are highly relevant in preparing for a presidency, significant gaps still exist in the AACC leadership competency framework related to navigating institutional culture and politics, as well as work/life balance. Finally, findings indicated that follow-up activities that include a mentorship component are needed to sustain leadership development. The implications for higher education practice concerning formal leadership development programs are concerned with establishing stronger connections between aspiring women leaders and successful leaders of both sexes, and addressing women’s motivation for ascension. Also, while the AACC core leadership competencies are generally seen as highly relevant, significant gaps exist that impact women’s leadership growth and ascension, and formal follow-up activities that include a strong mentoring component are lacking. The findings of this research study will contribute to higher education practice through a series of recommendations for preparing and motivating aspiring women leaders to ascend to a presidency. These recommendations are that leadership development programs should foster continued interaction between aspiring women leaders and those who have successfully achieved a presidency, and should include mechanisms to enhance their desire for advancement to a presidency. In addition, the AACC core leadership competency framework should be readdressed to address significant gaps perceived by women leaders, and leadership development program designers should imbed formal, structured, and sustainable follow-up activities into their curriculum that include a mentorship component. At the time of the study, research was limited on the impact of a formal leadership development program on women’s successful advancement to a presidency; therefore, additional research should be conducted to increase understanding of how leadership development programs for women can be enhanced to offer effective leadership training for women to lead the community colleges of the 21st century.

Community college leadership, Women and higher education leadership, Core leadership competencies, Leadership development program, Women and the community college presidency