The influence of leadership development approaches on social capital: A mixed methods study

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Virginia Tech

Leadership programs serve as a mechanism to develop the leadership capacity of individuals, groups, and organizations. Although considerable time and resources have been devoted to understanding the outcomes of leadership development, little time and effort has been dedicated to understanding the developmental approaches that influence the emergence of these outcomes. The purpose of this study was to explore and untangle the relationships between common leadership development approaches, networking ability, and social capital outcomes.

A sample of graduates from 15 agricultural-based leadership development programs, and a two-phase, convergent parallel mixed methods (QUAN + QUAL) design, were used to assess the relationships between the aforementioned constructs. Specifically, this research explored the influence of common leadership development approaches – conceptual understanding, feedback, personal growth, and skill building – on networking ability and the following dimensions of social capital: (a) groups and networks, (b) trust and solidarity, and (c) cooperation and political action. Quantitative data were collected using a cross-sectional, web-based survey (n = 231), and qualitative data were collected using semi-structured interviews (n =11). Equal priority was given to the quantitative and qualitative data, which was collected concurrently, analyzed independently, and mixed at the conclusions and metainference stage.

The findings indicate that participation in an agricultural leadership program influences the social capital capacity of graduates by providing opportunities that facilitate the emergence of new, appropriable social networks. Through a variety of learning activities and shared experiences, participants diversify their social network and develop strong network connections. These connections, and the embedded social capital (i.e., relational) resources, are being accessed frequently for advice, information, and support. As reported by program graduates, personal growth and skill building were identified as the most influential approaches for developing leadership capacity. These approaches, which are characterized by collaborative, group learning, also had the strongest relationships with networking ability. Networking ability should be specifically targeted and included in leadership development curricula because it can influence cooperation and political action, which have been described as the highest levels of social capital. Informal learning also plays an important role in the development of trust, strong bonds, and solidarity among program participants.

Leadership Development, Social Capital, Networking Ability, Leadership and Learning, Social Networks