A study of the pathway to community college presidency for African American women: an oral history
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Under our current social conditions what types of leadership skills are needed for an African American woman to serve as a community college president? This study explores the behavioral leadership skills that African American women bring to the top positions at community colleges and the impact that their diversity has on the student body, the community being served by the college, faculty, and governing boards who hold the responsibility of selecting community college chief executive officers (CEOs). The Achieving Styles Inventory (ASI), along with qualitative interviews were used to examine the leadership traits employed by African American female CEOs to manage a diverse cadre of faculty and staff and to successfully manage Board of Trustee relationships. During the academic year 2003-2004, forty African American women viii served in the position of chief executive officer throughout the United States. This study finds that African American female CEOs have a propensity to use more relational behavioral leadership strategies (including collaborative, contributory, and vicarious skills) than their counterparts. Competition was the behavioral leadership skill used least by the participants, who preferred to use the strategy of “coopertition” (a derivative of cooperation and competition) to learn various aspects of leading a two-year institution. As we move deeper into the 21st century, community college leaders and faculty will only begin to resemble the student bodies they are to lead, if governing boards grow in their understanding of the history of African American female leadership and work to deconstruct the negative stereotypes that counter what history teaches us about the leadership abilities of African American women. This study demonstrates that African American CEOs can play a major role in helping African American female students faced with limited role models and support systems to successfully negotiate the demands of attending a two-year institution. The researcher and the participants of this study advocate for higher education programs to increase their teachings of the leadership histories of African American women, in an effort to empower future leaders by exposing them to the legacy of African American female leadership. This is a critical need for community college leaders, who are generally the first line of leaders to serve the African American female student on college campuses.