Leadership and the Profession of Counseling: Beliefs and Practices

By West, John D.; Bubenzer, Donald L. et al. | Counselor Education and Supervision, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Leadership and the Profession of Counseling: Beliefs and Practices


West, John D., Bubenzer, Donald L., Osborn, Cynthia J., Paez, Susan B., Desmond, Kimberly J., Counselor Education and Supervision


Thirty-one individuals who have provided leadership to the counseling profession completed 3 Q-sorts. These individuals sorted 39 statements about leadership according to 3 phases: when a leadership effort is getting started, when work is progressing, and when a leadership effort is coming to a close. The authors present perspectives on leadership that emerged from the study, during each of the 3 phases, and attempt to present their findings in a way that honors multiple voices about leadership.

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A consideration of national politics, local events, and our professional lives reminds us of the importance of leadership. It is difficult to imagine an organization, school, or agency remaining viable without effective leadership. The Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP; 2001) has called our attention to the need for preparing doctoral students for leadership efforts: "This extension of knowledge should take into account the societal changes of the 21st century and prepare graduates to be leaders and advocates for change" (p. 97). We suggest that master's-level degree counselors could also benefit from preparation for positions of leadership.

Despite the importance of leadership in counseling, very little is addressed in the counseling literature specifically on leadership. The Chi Sigma Iota Academy of Leaders for Excellence (1999) developed a list of 10 principles and practices for leadership excellence, reflections on leadership and illustrations of leadership have been noted in an edited text (West, Osborn, & Bubenzer, 2003), and school counselors have been encouraged to practice leadership (Bemak, 2000; Dollarhide, 2003). Magnuson, Wilcoxon, and Norem (2003) offered research on the career paths of 10 leaders in the profession of counseling, and, although leadership was not the specific focus of their study, Niles, Akos, and Cutler (2001) interviewed 14 "prominent counselor educators" with "substantial records in the areas of scholarship ... and service (e.g., election to multiple leadership roles within ACA [American Counseling Association] over the course of their careers)" (p. 278) about successfully managing role expectations. In addition, Black and Magnuson (2005) considered the experiences, attributes, and behaviors of 10 female leaders in the counseling profession, and Portman and Garrett (2005) described a "nurturing leadership" perspective informed by the experiences of Native American women.

Others outside the profession of counseling have also written about leadership (e.g., Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Goleman, Boyatzis, & Mckee, 2004; Kotter, 1996; Kouzes & Posner, 2002; Wheatley, 1999). For example, Bennis and Nanus have written about four areas of leadership. They have mentioned that leadership (a) needs to attend to a vision or outcome, (b) includes effectively communicating the vision in order to generate "shared meanings" in the organization (p. 37), (c) values trust ("people who are predictable, whose positions are known and ... who ... make their positions clear," p. 41), and (d) includes positive self-regard that is in part demonstrated through trusting in oneself "without letting ... egos ... get in the way" (p. 54) and by demonstrating awareness of one's "strengths and compensating for weaknesses" (p. 55). Furthermore, Kouzes and Posner (2002) presented five practices of exemplary leadership. The authors mentioned that leadership includes (a) modeling behavior that is "expected of others.... Words and deeds must be consistent" (p. 14); (b) inspiring "a shared vision" (p. 15); (c) looking "for opportunities to innovate, grow, and improve" (p. 17); (d) finding ways for others to make valued contributions; and (e) letting others know their contributions are valued.

Assuming that leadership can be learned (Bennis & Nanus, 1985; Kouzes & Posner, 2002), we believe that it is important to use the voices of those who have offered leadership in the counseling profession. …

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