Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Community Based Civic Leadership Programs: A Descriptive Investigation

Academic journal article Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies

Community Based Civic Leadership Programs: A Descriptive Investigation

Article excerpt

This paper focuses on the development and operational practice of civic leadership programs within the entire state of California. The intention of this paper is to provide a clearer understanding of how civic leadership programs are shaped and structured. This paper also offers a glimpse into the status of civic leadership programs within California, and will cover a variety of topics such as the types of programs, curricular practices of programs, major issues facing programs, occupational make up of participants, and program funding. Implications for future civic leadership development are discussed.


Civic Leadership programs are formal leadership development programs sponsored by local community agencies with the aim of training future and current leaders in the skills necessary to serve their communities. These programs attempt to foster an understanding of the events, people, and organizational entities that shape a community, while providing skills and knowledge to be more effective leaders. An important aim of these programs is to inspire citizens to step forward and assume leadership roles within the community. The concept of civic leadership has been defined as:

The 'art and science' of leading in the public arena where one engages in the affairs of society through public advocacy, debate, education, and the fostering of dialogue and group reflection. Civic leadership promotes critical thinking in the public arena and an examination of new alternatives and paradigms. (Reed, 1996: 100).

The steady rise in the number of civic leadership programs points to the perceived importance of having increased numbers of trained civic leaders within the community. Some evidence indicates that communities with strong civic engagement and strong local leadership tend to have lower crime rates, better schools, and more effective government institutions (Putnam 1995; Rossing, 1998). Typically, these cities have a strong sense of community and personal ownership. Fostering these feelings of civic respect and ownership has been a challenge to many local cities and governments, and the growth of civic leadership programs may be one important step in enhancing a sense of community.

Most civic leadership programs have had a relatively recent emergence in the United States. The earliest known program is Leadership Inc. in Philadelphia that began in 1959 (Moore, 1988). Different sources give different reasons and historical factors that contribute to the creation of civic leadership programs. Many stories attribute the formation of civic leadership programs to the race riots that were ravaging the country in the 1960's (Community Leadership Association, 2001). These programs started as a way to bring the community together by trying to create a mutual understanding of the issues and problems facing the community.

Other stories attribute the formation of leadership programs to a severe lack of leaders within the community. A dramatic example of such a case occurred with a tragic plane crash that was carrying most of Atlanta's young leaders (Fredricks, 1998). This event created a leadership vacuum within the community and spurred members of the community to form Leadership Atlanta to help fill vacant leadership roles. Although this case is extremely rare, many communities report that they are finding it harder to locate capable leaders to assume responsibility and help guide the community, and to replace retiring community leaders. R.D. Putnam, (2000) has suggested that the reduction of civic participation can be linked to increased pressure on time and money. Putnam also suggested that current technological trends (such as computers and e-mails) have, in some ways, reduced human and community interaction.

The value of civic leadership programs is hard to gauge due to the unique nature of individual programs. Each program contends with different issues, different populations, different budgets, different approaches to training leaders, and many other significant differences. …

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