Leadership Competencies in a Community College

Subject: Leadership Styles
Pages: 17
Words: 3603
Reading time:
17 min
Study level: PhD


The importance of leadership cannot be overestimated in contemporary society. In that regard, it can be seen that many disciplines has took the issue of leadership as an essential component, in which the developed skills were identified as essential in both academic and professional context. In the context of business, the importance of leadership can be seen in the prediction that for the period of 2008 through 2018 20% of the companies ranked in Fortune’s top 500 will leave their position due to poor leadership (Creehan, 2002). In that regard, leadership is currently covered in an enormous library of books and scholarly articles, which provide useful findings and insights into the leadership aspect in various different contexts.

Leadership and community colleges were always two related notions, specifically during the rise of interest toward community colleges. The history of community colleges dates back to the early twentieth century, whereas “During the late 1940’s and 1950’s, however, the community/junior college movement began to flourish” (Martin, 1972, p. 1). The application of the name community college was developed later in the twentieth century, during the 1950s and the 1960s, while prior to this period the name junior college was applied more often. Community colleges can be defined as “an institution offering two years of instruction of strictly collegiate degree… [the college] may, and is likely to, develop a different type of curriculum suited to the larger and ever-changing civic, social, religious, and vocational needs of the entire community in which the college is located” (Cohen & Brawer, 2003, pp. 3-4).

In that regard, it can be stated that the role of community colleges in providing a workforce education as well as their deviation from the traditional educational system contributed to the increase in the number of colleges and the gradual increase in the undergraduate enrollment. The increase in the undergraduate enrollment during the period from 1993 to 2002 reached an impressive 17.6%, while the number of community colleges reached 1,186 in 2005, growing from 330 in 1950. As of 2009, the number of enrolled undergraduates surpassed 11 million (AACC, 2010).

Being an organization in its essence, community college has always put an emphasis on leadership as well as the importance of the leading administrative positions. The direction toward leadership was first established through the announcement of W.K. Kellogg Foundation Support of Community College Leadership Development in 1960. Accordingly, Kellogg foundation was also supportive in the most recent issues of leadership through the formation of the Leading Forward Initiative by the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC). Reviewing the programs supported by Kellogg in the 1960s and the 1970s as well as the more recent program, AACC launched a series of summits in 2003 which led to the development of field-supported Competencies for Community College Leaders (Vaughan & American Association of Community Colleges., 2006). In such way AACC established a framework through which the development of leadership was made a central focus of AACC mission. Describing the framework, AACC states,

The framework has wide utility for both individuals and institutions. It helps emerging leaders chart their personal leadership development progress. It provides program developers with curricula guidelines. Institutionally, it informs human resources departments with direction for staff recruitment, hiring, rewards, and professional development. This competency framework is intended as a “living document,” evolving over time to meet changing human and institutional needs (AACC, 2005).

Statement of the Problem

The emphasis of leadership and leadership competencies was rationalized by a crisis in community leader positions with the level of turnover among community college leaders escalating dramatically (AACC, 2005). A 2006 Career and Lifestyle Survey of community college presidents, found that 84% of present community college presidents plan to retire by 2016 (Conover, 2009). With such turnover, the need for college leaders increases, specifically with the constant changes happening gin the societies. The management of change was among the most important and identified competencies in many frameworks, although not explicitly stated in AACC leadership competencies (Brown, Martinez, & Daniel, 2002; Lauren & Karl, 2008). There are numerous changes that are happening both economically and politically that requires competent leaders to handle the situation. Societies are becoming overwhelmed by issues of which the leaders are not able to adequately handle due to the fact that they are not endowed with adequate skills to handle them. Colleges are being challenged to train their students to ensure that they are also acquainted with what is happening so that they are able to handle the unpredictable future of the coming generation. A report entitled “A Qualitative Analysis of Community College Leadership from the Leading Forward Summits”, prepared for AACC, set the foundation and the framework for defining and identifying competencies of community college leaders (Vincent, 2004).

The analysis of the appropriateness of these competencies was conducted in several researches, which nevertheless, presented a generalized approach, specifically, in terms of describing the effectiveness of leadership and the positive outcome of the work of community college presidents. Accordingly, it can be stated that the existent competency model should be tested, as the dynamic environment of community colleges changes, and thus, the experiences of these competencies might differ. The investigation of the competencies of practicing administrators working with community college president will outline the most essential competencies in the AACC framework as well as any potential areas of improvement.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of the study is first of all in making a contribution to the area of knowledge concerned with the leadership of community colleges. The qualitative design that will be used in this study will allow reaching several objectives. The first objective will be in translating the textual descriptions gathered from the participants into meaningful data. Such data will enable identifying what the participants associate with practicing their roles as leaders in community college, and at the same time what competencies enable them practicing such role effectively and lead sustained growth. Accordingly, the second objective will be in making a comparison of the extracted data with the AACC Community College Leadership Competencies model. The comparison will be attempted through thematic grouping of the respondents’ answers as well as regrouping AACC competency model to indicate any similarities. In the second objective, the competencies presented in the AACC will be validated, in terms of its appropriateness.

Research Questions

The objectives of the study will be accomplished through answering the following research questions:

  1. What is the essence of the role of a leader in the position of community college administrator?
  2. What are the most effective competencies enabling the participants of leading sustained growth in the college.
  3. How the competencies outlined by the respondents correspond to the competencies model of AACC.

Definition of Key Terms

Community college: an institution which is “accredited to award the Associate in Arts or the Associate in Science as its highest degree. This community college definition includes the public comprehensive two-year colleges and the many technical institutes” (Cohen & Brawer, 2003, p. 5)

AACC competencies model: a framework which include six core competencies. The competencies are:

  1. Organizational Strategy.
  2. Resource management.
  3. Communication.
  4. Collaboration.
  5. Community college advocacy (AACC, 2005).
  6. Professionalism.

Psychophenomenological method (PPM): “a scientific and rigorous way of describing and analyzing qualitative data… [in which] awareness is akin to what others call consciousness and intentionality is viewed as the chief determinant of behavior” (J. Anderson & Eppard, 1998).

Horizontalization: Listing every expression relevant to the experience (Moustakas, 1994, p. 120).

Invariant Constituents: Expressions which contain a moment of the experience and sufficient to understand it, which can be abstracted and labeled (Moustakas, 1994).

Brief Review of the Literature


Leaders and leadership was the subject of many books and publications, varying between HR guides and studies identifying characteristics and competencies. In a review of leadership books, Robert J. Allio (2009) identified five hypotheses related to leadership, which are constantly debated and recycled. These hypotheses are reflected in the following list:

  • Good leaders have good characters
  • There’s no best way to lead
  • Leader must collaborate
  • Adaptability makes longevity possible
  • Leaders are self made (Robert, 2009, p. 4)

In that regard, in accordance to these hypotheses, a leadership model can be constructed. Leaders are competent and ethical figures, who are capable of designing and managing a collaborative process of decision-making and conflict resolution, running the organization in different situations, and experimenting with alternative approaches to new challenges and slowly integrate the successful approaches into a personal leadership style and strategy” (p.9). A traditional definition stemming from leadership theories outlines that leadership is “a process of influence leading to the achievement of desired purposes” (Marion, 2007, p. 408). Indicating the role of training in the development of leadership, the consensus is that “leadership theory and principles can be taught, but leadership behavior must be learned” (Robert, 2009, p. 9).

Among the wide range of leadership theories one of the best known is the full range leadership theory of Bernard Bass, first proposed in 1985 I the book Leadership and Performance beyond Expectations. Regarding the availability and the differentiation in Leadership definitions, Bass explained.

The more recent definitions conceive leadership in terms of influence relationships, power differentials, persuasion, influence on goal achievement, role differentiation, reinforcement, initiation of structure, and perceived attributions of behavior that are consistent with what the perceivers believe leadership to be. Leadership may involve all these things (Trottier, Wart, & Wang, 2008, p. 320).

The model of Bass consisted of eight types of leadership, divided into three groups of leadership elements, which are outlined and ordered on priority of elements from top to bottom as follows:

  • Laissez-Faire leadership.
  • Transactional Leadership.
  • Management by exception, passive.
  • Management by exception, active.
  • Contingent reward.
  • Transformational leadership
  • Individualized consideration.
  • Idealized influence.
  • Intellectual stimulation.
  • Inspirational motivation.

In a study of Bass’ operational definition of leadership and its applicability in government organizations, it was found out that the definition is close to the perception of federal employees of the notion of effective leadership, outlining a direct relationship between good leadership and follower satisfaction, in which transformational leadership is slightly favored (Trottier, et al., 2008, p. 319).

Although the aforementioned leadership styles can be transformed into one another, it can be stated that they are largely static. On the other hand, leadership can be developed, where the term leadership development level (LDL) can be defined as “the measurable capacity to understand ourselves, others, and our situations” (Lauren & Karl, 2008, p. 49). In that regard, each level has its own characteristics which correspond to different stages of development, according to Piaget’s constructive developmental theory. Analyzing the relationship between the LDL and the effectiveness of leadership, a study by Harris and Kuhnert (2007) conducted a quantitative analysis which found that LDL predicted leadership effectiveness, with higher level of LDL being more effective in a number of leadership competencies (e.g. Leading Change, Managing Performance, Creating a Compelling Vision, etc) (Lauren & Karl, 2008, p. 47).

Differentiating the perspectives on leadership, it should be stated that the main approaches toward their analysis imply two distinct areas. The latter is specifically true in terms of researches, where these areas include organizational leadership, namely business organizations, and educational leadership. In the context of education, the leadership issue might present a unique challenge as educational institutions are organizationally complex, with different faculties and departments with multiple goals and traditional values. Among leadership positions, falling within the educational context, Vice-Chancellors, Presidents, and Rectors can be considered as the highest in educational institutions. In Spendlove (2007), a study focused on the role of leadership for such high positions as well as second-in-command positions, namely Pro-Vice-Chancelors (PVCs). The findings indicated that for PVCs academic credibility and experience of university life was crucial factors for effective leadership, while in terms of skills, the ability to communicate and negotiate were among the most important (Marion, 2007). In the latter, it should be outlined that the study found that most participating universities did not have systemic approaches for leadership skills identification and development.


Leadership and community colleges can be seen in a somewhat different context, as community college can be seen as a miniature of communities, serving as “a role model, catalyst, and leader in or nexus of the community” (J. A. Anderson, 1997, p. 28). In that regard, the American Association of Community Colleges throughout history made proactive leadership the main focus of its mission, stating that the availability and the development of leaders is “vital to the continued success of community colleges and their students” (AACC, 2005).

The specific role of leaders in community colleges can be also seen through their role which extends beyond the role of universities and 4-year colleges, including the generally recognized traditional functions: “developmental education; community education (commonly referred to as adult and continuing education and including business, industry, and government contract training and noncredit management, special interest, and community service programming), collegiate education (academic transfer); career education; and general education” (J. A. Anderson, 1997, p. 28).

Accordingly, ACT, Inc conducted a qualitative analysis for AACC with the main purpose of establishing a framework for leadership development in community colleges. 154 participants including AACC affiliated councils, university programs and others submitted inventories, surveys, and journalistic summaries, based on which key knowledge, skills, and values for effective community college leaders were outlined. These skills and values were used to compose a competency model which consisted of 5 competencies, organizational strategy, management, interpersonal communication and professionalism (Vincent, 2004, p. 12). In additional survey conducted in 2004, these competencies were revised to include six areas, organizational strategy, resources management, communication, collaboration, community college advocacy, professionalism (AACC, 2005). These competencies can be seen different than those identified in Baker (1988), which in turn was built on the work of Mintzberg (1980) and Drucker (1967), and consist of such elements as visionary, task giver, motivator, figurehead liaison (Roe & Baker, 1989, p. 6). In general, the competencies identified by AACC were found to be appropriate for the college community leaders, achieving an effective level of competency attainment (Conover, 2009). Accordingly, initiatives for identifying and training leaders were suggested to be among the priorities of community colleges, where Roe and Baker (1989) recommended that “a process for the identification of future leaders and provisions for their training through planned mentoring should be an immediate priority of responsible community college CEOs” (Roe & Baker, 1989, p. 14). A review of literature outlined the existence of many of such initiative, within many leadership training programs, which focus on personal or professional development of college leaders (J. A. Anderson, 1997, p. 47). In Anderson (1997), a study on different leadership programs suggested several findings, one of which states that a combination of both a graduate program and a professional leadership development academy is the best bet for producing the essential number and quality of future leaders in the short time frame required by the looming large-scale retirement of current senior administrators” (J. A. Anderson, 1997, p. 48).

The Crisis of Community College Leaders

The existence of a leadership shortage is an existent problem supported by various researches and surveys. The numbers point to an unfavorable prediction of a leadership crisis, in which “leaders are retiring at a faster rate and shortening their years of service” (Conover, 2009). The numbers include the 78% decrease in graduate degrees awarded to community college leaders, and the finding of a 2006 Career and Lifestyle Survey of community college presidents that “84% of present community college presidents plan to retire by 2016” (Conover, 2009, p. 1). With the shortage being an essential problem, the skills needed for effective leadership are also in shortage, where in Brown (2002) a survey of skills of community college leaders indicated the need for such skills as understanding of collaborative decision making and understanding and application of change (Brown, et al., 2002, p. 57). In terms of recommended skills, organization and time management skills were ranked the highest (Brown, et al., 2002).


The review indicates that there is a certain emphasis put on leadership in community colleges, in which the crisis of the shortage of college administrators can be seen as a rationale factor for such emphasis. In that regard, it can be stated that the analysis of competencies is of major importance, although a generalized approach toward leadership roles can be outlined. Accordingly, it can b stated that the relationship between the commonly accepted competencies model of AACC and the ethical and moral values are not fully explored. Additionally, the self-perception of community leaders, their competencies and the correspondence to AACC competency model was not covered in any studies in the review, apart from the assessment of leadership effectiveness, where superiors and peers were found to predict leader effectiveness better than subordinates or oneself (Lauren & Karl, 2008). Accordingly, in forming the competencies the quantitative methods are usually used, apart from the AACC model, which nevertheless does not make consideration to the experiences of the participants.

Research Method

The selected research method is a phenomenology qualitative design. It can be assumed that a quantitative or mixed approach would have suited the research purpose better. However, as one of the objectives of the study is related to examining the firs-hand experiences of community college administrators, qualitative phenomenology design was selected. The rationale for choosing the aforementioned design is largely driven by the definitions of such research methods. On the one hand, the definition of qualitative research implies an inquiry process, which is “based on distinct methodological traditions of inquiry that explore a social or human problem” (SRM, 2000). Phenomenology, on the other hand, as one of qualitative research types, is concerned with describing the meaning of the lived experiences for several individuals (SRM, 2000).

The participants are the administrators of a community college, and thus, the first-hand experience, collected through a series of interviews will serve as the basis for the analysis of leadership competencies. According to Clark Moustakas’ Phenomenological Research Methods (1994), in which he describes the steps of empirical phenomenological research, the experiences of the participants are used to obtain descriptions, which in turn “provide the basis for a reflective structural analysis that portrays the essences of the experience” (Moustakas, 1994, p. 13).

According to Hycner (1999), cited in Groenewald (2004), the phenomenon dictates the method (not vice-versa) including even the type of participants” (Groenewald, 2004, p. 8). In that regard, the examined phenomenon is leadership competencies, and thus, the method of exploring this phenomenon was identified, in addition to the participants, i.e. the administrators who experienced leadership competencies. Adding to the rationale of selecting qualitative over quantitative, it can be stated that in the case of the latter, the usage of predetermined variables will likely lead to the validation of AACC competencies, and/or setting the preferences and the priorities among them, in terms of competencies. In a qualitative phenomenology design, the experiences of the participants will be analyzed and related to constructed expressions, which will be then compared to the AACC model of community college competencies as an additional objective of the study.


The selected method, as was stated earlier is a series of long interviews. The participants of the study were selected to be African-American administrators, working closely with the President of a community college. The criteria for selecting the participants are established through the determination of leadership position in selected colleges. The ethical concerns will be addressed through establishing a contract, obtaining informed consent, insuring confidentiality, and obtaining permission to record and publish (Moustakas, 1994, p. 181). A preliminary agreement with the colleges’ administrations should allow further proceedings with the interviews.

The method of data collection and analysis was van Kaam’s psychophenomenological method (PPM) as it is applicable for qualitative data analysis (J. Anderson & Eppard, 1998). In that regard, such method is usually used with large samples, and thus, this study will make an attempt to incorporate a small sample characteristic of qualitative designs. van Kaam initially outlined six steps in his method, which include listing and preliminary grouping, reduction, elimination, hypothetical identification, application and final identification. Those stages were late adapted into 12 stage model. The method which will be implemented in this study is the modified version of van Kaam method of analysis of phenomenological data. The central questions of the interviews were:

  • How the administrators did experienced their role as leaders in community colleges?
  • What competencies they found as the most effective in leading sustained growth in college.

In that regard, a qualitative research interview will be conducted in order to obtain descriptions of the participants’ experiences. The chosen method of interviewing is informal, with the intention to gather information in the participants’ own words, rather than using predefined notions and concepts. The questions will be topically guided. The steps in van Kaam’s modified method include the following:

  • Listing the expressions, relevant to the experience which was described.
  • Reducing the eliminating the experiences to determine Invariant Constituents.
  • Clustering and thematizing the invariant constituents
  • Final identification.
  • Using validated constituents to construct individual structural description.
  • Construct individual structural description
  • Construct textural-structural description

Accordingly, these descriptions for each question will be grouped, identified, and in order to accomplish the last objective, which is comparing against the model of AACC.


Leadership entails a lot more than may meet the eye, what is perceived of an effective leader is different from what is expected. It may at times not be easy to appreciate the same unless one has had the experience of being one. In that regard, the present study will enable gaining a first-hand insight of leadership competencies, through transforming the experiences of leaders. The chosen method of research is justified through its flexibility in exploring the subject, rather than following an already predetermined pattern.


AACC. (2005). Competencies for Community College Leaders. American Association of Community Colleges. Web. 

AACC. (2010). American Association of Community Colleges HomePage American Association of Community Colleges. Web. 

Anderson, J., & Eppard, J. (1998). Van Kaam’s Method Revisited. Qual Health Res, 8(3), 399-403.

Anderson, J. A. (1997). Leadership Training Initiatives for Community College Administrators: A Focused Synthesis of the Literature. Community College Review, 24(4), 27-54.

Brown, L., Martinez, M., & Daniel, D. (2002). Community College Leadership Preparation: Needs, perceptions, and Recommendations. Community College Review, 30(1), 45-73.

Cohen, A. M., & Brawer, F. B. (2003). The American community college (4th ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Conover, K. (2009). Leadership competencies of branch campus administrators in multi-campus community college systems. Unpublished Ph.D., Iowa State University, United States – Iowa.

Groenewald, T. (2004). A Phenomenological Research Design Illustrated. International Journal of Qualitative Methods, 3(1). Web.

Lauren, S. H., & Karl, W. K. (2008). Looking through the lens of leadership: a constructive developmental approach. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 29(1), 47.

Marion, S. (Writer). (2007). Competencies for effective leadership in higher education.


Moustakas, C. E. (1994). Phenomenological research methods. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage.

Robert, J. A. (2009). Leadership – the five big ideas. Strategy & Leadership, 37(2), 4.

Roe, M. A., & Baker, G. A. (1989). The Development of Community College Leaders: A Challenge for our Future. Community College Review, 16(4), 5-16.

SRM. (2000). Qualitative Research Methods. Social Research Methods. Web. 

Trottier, T., Wart, M., & Wang, X. (Writer). (2008). Examining the Nature and Significance of Leadership in Government Organizations.

Vaughan, G. B., & American Association of Community Colleges. (2006). The community college story (3rd ed.). Washington, D.C.: American Association of Community Colleges.

Vincent, E. T. (2004). A Qualitative Analysis of Community College Leadership from the Leading Forward Summits. Community College Leaders. Web.


Annotated Bibliography

AACC. (2005). Competencies for Community College Leaders. American Association of Community Colleges

A brochure by the American Association of Community Colleges, in which the role of leadership for community college leaders is outlined in addition to the established model of competencies. The brochure outlines the stages through which the competencies were developed as well as a brief description of each competency.

Anderson, J. A. (1997). Leadership Training Initiatives for Community College Administrators: A Focused Synthesis of the Literature. Community College Review, 24(4), 27-54.

This article includes a comprehensive literature review of leadership training programs. The author attempts to identify and assess the effectiveness of such programs through a qualitative method of selective review of literature. The findings of the study suggest that formal graduate programs are not sufficient for leadership development, whereas a combination of both, graduate and professional development can be seen effective. The evidences also indicate that most programs have positive albeit limited outcomes.

Brown, L., Martinez, M., & Daniel, D. (2002). Community College Leadership Preparation: Needs, perceptions, and Recommendations. Community College Review, 30(1), 45-73.

The study in this article focuses on the role of doctoral degree in community college leaderships. A quantitative analysis was conducted in a survey of several categories of skills learned in doctorate programs. The study confirmed earlier suggestions that doctorate degree is a passport to community college leaderships. The literature review in the present paper used the results of the survey to identify recommended and needed skills for leadership.

Conover, K. (2009). Leadership competencies of branch campus administrators in multi-campus community college systems. Unpublished Ph.D., Iowa State University, United States – Iowa.

A doctoral dissertation in which the main purpose was identifying and analyzing the leadership competencies of community college branch campus administrators. The study used a mixed approach comprised of surveys and interviews with branch campus administrators. The findings suggested correspondence of the competencies t the AACC model, with the identification of several areas of improvements, namely in communication skills, financial management, and procurement skills and knowledge.

Lauren, S. H., & Karl, W. K. (2008). Looking through the lens of leadership: a constructive developmental approach. Leadership & Organization Development Journal, 29(1), 47.

This article addressed a study examining the relationships between Leadership Development Level (LDL), built on Piaget’s Constructive developmental theory, and leadership effectiveness. The study used a quantitative approach, gathering and analyzing feedback scores from participants in executive leadership development programs. The study found a positive correlation between LDL and the effectiveness of several leadership competencies, where higher levels are more effective. The list of competencies included leading change, managing performance, creating a compelling vision, etc.

Marion, S. (Writer). (2007). Competencies for effective leadership in higher education.

This study examines the leadership competencies in higher education, investigating specifically the positions of Pro-Vice-Chancellor (PVC), as a second-in command in Universities. The study used the method of semi-structured interviews with the participants being PVC in ten UK universities. The study found that the most crucial competencies are related to academic credibility and experience of academic life.

Robert, J. A. (2009). Leadership – the five big ideas. Strategy & Leadership, 37(2), 4.

A review by a strategic management consultant Robert J. Allio, in which he as editor composed a synthesis of the contents of leadership books, forming the most debatable leadership hypothesis. The author discusses these hypotheses, presenting both sides of the tales as well as the commonly accepted notions regarding. The discussion proves beneficial in composing a definition of leadership, which falls out of classical leadership theories, presenting a practical overview of leaders.

Roe, M. A., & Baker, G. A. (1989). The Development of Community College Leaders: A Challenge for our Future. Community College Review, 16(4), 5-16.

This article is a comprehensive 1989 review of leadership theories with the purpose of identifying leaders and outlining the necessity for their training and devolvement. The authors touch on the works of other author as well as theirs in terms of building a framework for describing and defining the role of leaders in community colleges. The authors’ conclusion indicates the importance of training and development as a method of maximizing the potential of identified leaders.

Trottier, T., Wart, M., & Wang, X. (Writer). (2008). Examining the Nature and Significance of Leadership in Government Organizations.

This article is devoted to testing the applicability of Bernard Bass’ full leadership theory in the context of governmental organizations. The study conducted an analysis of federal survey data, obtained from the US office of Personnel Management, measuring the effectiveness of the organization, organizational performance and leadership. The study found that Bass’ definition is appropriate to the aforementioned context, with transformational and transactional leadership being important to federal government. The study was used in the review, introducing Bass’s model as well as a model of measuring the correlation between the satisfaction of followers and good leadership.

Vincent, E. T. (2004). A Qualitative Analysis of Community College Leadership from the Leading Forward Summits. Community College Leaders

This report present the foundation of the AACC competency model, presenting a description of the qualitative analysis, based on which the views of experts were collected and categorized into descriptive domains. This study presents the initial model comprising of only five competencies, which were later expanded into six elements. The study also shows the initial areas of knowledge, skills, and values, based on which the model was composed.