Predicting the individual values of the social change model of leadership development: The role of college students’ leadership and involvement experiences

There is an increasing emphasis on leader and leadership development in higher education.  As evidence there are numerous mission statements that include leader development as part of the University’s mission or vision statement.  For example, the VT College of Agriculture and Life Sciences vision statement includes “building on the land-grant commitment of developing leaders.” This study by Haber and Komives (2009) seeks to examine to what extent co-curricular involvement, formal leadership roles, and leadership programs contributed to college students’ capacity for socially responsible leadership.  Socially responsible leadership is often framed using the social change model, which is widely used as a framework for leader development at the college level (Martin,Hevel, & Pascarella, 2012).   It is important to note that the social change model has three components: individual, group and societal values.  This study “focused specifically on the individual values of the social change model of leadership” (Haber & Komives, 2009, p. 2).  This study appeared in the Journal of Leadership Education and the sample (n=3,410) was randomly selected from undergraduates at a single institution.  The Multi-Institutional Study of Leadership  Development (MSL) questionnaire was utilized as the instrument.   This instrument includes demographic and pre-college variables, environmental and outcome variables and the SRLS-R2 which is a modified version of the SRLS used to measure the eight constructs of the social change model (National Clearinghouse for Leadership programs, 2006). 

               The authors use the social change model as the theoretical framework for the study.  It was my understanding that the social change model was a leadership development model, not a theory.  On the other hand, as a new student of leadership I would tend to agree with Dugan (2006): most leadership studies are not based on any leadership theory or framework (as cited in Haber & Komives, 2009).  Needless to say, I was happy to read a leadership article that utilized such a parsimonious model/theory.  For me, this theory exhibits parsimony because of its straightforward nature and the generally accepted instrument (SRLS) that is used to measure the constructs.  For example, these researchers used one component of the model i.e. individual values and examined environmental conditions that influence those values.  A critique with regard to the theoretical approach taken by the authors would be that they did not provide a substantive argument as to why they thought studying one component of the model without regard to the other components was feasible and would provide valid and reliable results.  For example, the model shows the three components are inextricably linked and that the values in one component build on the other.  Additionally, the theoretical framework that is utilized by researchers assumes that service is the primary means of developing leaders.  In theory, this sounds good, but in actuality there also several other “triggers” across the lifespan that could influence the development of leaders.  Another critique of the theory is that while it is a pragmatic and useful instructive model it does not provide significant application to the workplace and/or organizational development. 

               Most of the literature indicates that each component of the social change model interacts with the other to accomplish change.  With that in mind, my first recommendation to the authors would be to divulge the concomitant environmental variables associated with each of the other components of the social change model and how each may have affected the results of their study and hence contribute to a students’ capacity for socially responsible leadership.  For me, it doesn’t seem logical to use a theory that suggests all of the components work together and then utilize one component to measure how environmental variables affect that single component.  Secondly, the researchers used a “then-post” design and provided one citation to validate the use of this method.  This design utilized the MSL which only included one question per outcome (consciousness of self, congruence, commitment) versus the six to nine questions identified for each construct of the model.  The authors explained this method was effective for understanding the environmental variables under study.  My recommendation is to make a better case for the “then-post” design by using several citations that validated the use of this method especially in a leadership context.  For me, the logic of one question per outcome does not justify reporting environmental effects on those outcomes.  The authors provided reliability scores for the constructs measured by the SRLS-R2 instrument, but in order to improve the reliability of their “then-post” design they should have utilized Cronbach Alpha as measure to ensure skeptical people like me that the modified instrument with only one question per outcome was reliably  measuring the environmental variables. 

               Overall, I think this article has made me think deeply about research design in a leadership context.  The most valuable piece of information that I can utilize is the classification of leadership programs provided by the authors.  They divided these variables into three distinct categories based on the length and frequency of these programs.  By using their method of variable coding I could use ANOVA to compare the means of these different programs in my future research and test hypothesis related to different treatments.  As someone who is yet to decide on their dissertation topic, I found this article especially helpful to help me frame possible areas of inquiry.  In Extension there are numerous programs to develop adult leaders.  I think that it would be interesting to use the social change model as a framework to explore the personal development outcomes of adults that participate in these Extension programs. 


Martin, G. L., Hevel, M. S., & Pascarella, E. T. (2012). Do Fraternities and Sororities Enhance Socially Responsible Leadership?. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 49(3), 267-284.

 Dugan, J. P. (2006). Explorations using the social change model: Leadership development among college men and women. Journal of College Student Development, 47 (2), 217-225.

 NCLP. (2006). Socially responsible leadership scale-revised2. College Park, MD: National Clearinghouse for Leadership Programs.


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