- The purpose of this study is to explore the lived experience of courage among community college leaders across the United States. The following questions guided the research: (1) What is the courageous experience like for a community college leader? (2) What is the process of courage development? (3) What are the internal and external conditions which are most likely to lead a community college leader to act courageously? The research design included a qualitative/interpretive methodology and instrumental case study method with nine community college leaders’ selected using purposive sampling.
Overall themes that emerged characterizing the experience of courage were: (a) real risks, (b) reasoned choice, (c) call to act, (d) facing adversity, (e) loneliness and isolation, (f) staying power, (g) maintaining personal integrity, and (h) preservation. Embedded in themes were sub-themes of the courageous experience. Prior, present, and future time horizons comprised the conceptual framework of the development process of becoming courageous for leaders. The prior time horizon focused on fundamentals included past practice, value formation, and consistency. During the present time horizon, leaders moved through three phases, each phase comprised of several elements of courage development. Elements within phases included fear, taking responsibility, risk, and reasoned choice (Phase One); action, focusing of attention, adversity, suffering loss (Phase Two); and, fortitude under stress, management of controversy, and survival amidst challenges (Phase Three). Outcomes of moving through the phases of the present time horizon were self integrity, institutional sustainability, and self release. Finally, for the future time horizon, courage was found to be habit forming and had elements of reflection, coping, and a readiness for calling.
The findings also included identifying internal and external conditions which were most likely to lead a community college leader to act courageously. Internal conditions were: (a) caring, (b) core values, (c) faith, (d) hope (with optimism), (e) humility, (f) perceived insight, (g) self-confidence, and (h) speaking up. External conditions were: (a) principles, (b) role models, and (c) supports. The study concludes that developing community college leaders who are ready when courage is called upon is an important challenge to higher education.
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