The word, leadership, has evolved over the centuries, yet still has no one agreed upon definition. It is a mystery in that we know we need it, we know it makes a difference, yet we don’t really know what it is. So, how do we develop something we can’t actually define?

As an educator, I find that it is my responsibility to ensure that students are prepared for the real-world, whether they embark on it after high school, after college, or even while they are pursuing their education. The real-world encompasses the professional, community, and life arenas in which individuals are called to engage in. Knowing that there is no magic formula to utilize to be effective, contributing members of these arenas, I wanted to at least find a way to help prepare students with a toolbox of competencies that they can pull out and use if the context is appropriate.

In doing this research, I came across many professional competency models, yet not one for higher education as whole or by specific academic program. With that said, leadership competency models are used:

  • ›Across sectors such as business, nonprofit, healthcare, education, military, law enforcement, library science, and hospitality
  • ›By nearly 75 percent of businesses
  • ›By many professional associations

I also discovered that there are many critiques to using competency models. They include:

  • Not situational: Competency models may not take into account situations (Bolden & Gosling, 2006).
  • Too many: There are too many competencies to master (Conger & Ready, 2004).
  • Not enough: There are not enough competencies to cover the complexity of leadership (Hollenbeck, McCall, & Silzer, 2006).
  • Contradiction: There may be contradictions between competencies-engaging in one may mean not engaging in another (Conger & Ready, 2004).
  • Deficit-model: Competency development uses a deficit-model, focusing on what needs to be improved (Bolden & Gosling, 2006).
  • Leader-centric: Competencies are often leader-centric and do not take followers into account.

Yet, there are also many assets to using competency models. They include:

  • Common language: Competency models offer a common language (Bolden & Gosling, 2006; Conger & Ready, 2004).
  • Expectations and training: They can help organizations set clear expectations and train others to reach them (Conger & Ready, 2004; Hollenbeck, McCall, & Silzer, 2006).
  • Tool: They can serve as a tool for leadership development (Spendlove, 2007).
  • Benchmarking: They can aid in behavioral benchmarking (McDaniel, 2002).
  • Leadership skills: They can increase leadership skills in an organization (Silzer & Douma, 1998).

So, I have worked tirelessly since 2008 to develop a model, curriculum ideas, framework maps, evaluation measurements, and countless tools and strategies to implement the Student Leadership Competencies. I hope you find them useful as you develop our future leaders!


  • Bolden, R., & Gosling, J. (2006). Leadership competencies: Time to change the tune? Leadership, 2(2), 147–163.
  • Conger, J. A., & Ready, D. A. (2004). Rethinking leadership competencies. Leader to Leader, 32, 41–47.
  • Hollenbeck, G. P., McCall, M. W., Jr., & Silzer, R. F. (2006). Leadership competency models. The Leadership Quarterly, 17, 398–413.
  • McDaniel, E. A. (2002). Senior leadership in higher education: An outcomes approach. Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, 9(2), 80–89.
  • Silzer, R., & Douma, R. (1998, April). Partnership on strategic selection and development: Building a high growth, high technology Generation X company. Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Dallas, TX.
  • Spendlove, M. (2007). Competencies for effective leadership in higher education. International Journal of Educational Management, 21(5), 407–417.