August 1994 // Volume 32 // Number 2 // Research in Brief // 2RIB2

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Leadership Effectiveness of County Extension Directors

This study examined the leadership styles, behaviors, and practices of all 62 county Extension directors (CEDs) in Pennsylvania. Data were collected using a mail survey. Findings indicated that: (a) 72% of the CEDs identified themselves as having a relation oriented leadership style; (b) CEDs, in general, possess the requisite skills needed for the CED leadership role; and (c) leadership behaviors and practices, and team work are related. Findings of this study may be utilized to identify strengths and weaknesses of CEDs in leadership roles. Such identification would help staff development to determine additional training for CEDs in the area of leadership.

Rama Radhakrishna
Research Associate
Internet address:

Edgar P. Yoder

Connie D. Baggett
Associate Professor

Department of Agricultural and Extension Education
The Pennsylvania State University
University Park, Pennsylvania

The role of County Extension Directors (CEDs) has expanded from one primarily focusing on custodial maintenance of the county Extension office and supervision of secretarial staff to one with responsibility for the entire Extension program at the county level (Brown, 1991). The CED serves as an administrative leader and coordinator for formulating, developing, implementing, and evaluating county Extension programs and coordinating personnel functions. In addition, the CED is a vital link between field staff and upper levels of administration. Thus, the leadership role of CEDs has become an increasingly critical element in the successful implementation of county Extension programs. Leadership is an observable and learnable set of practices. Individuals who possess the desire and persistence to lead, may enhance their skills and abilities required for the leadership role (Kouzes & Posner, 1988). Identifying leadership styles, behaviors, and practices is valuable and important for contributing to the professional growth and development of individual CEDs and attainment of organizational goals. This was the impetus for a study which examined the leadership styles, behaviors, and practices of CEDs in the Pennsylvania Extension System.

The population for the study was a census consisting of all 62 CEDs in Pennsylvania. The 18-item, Least Preferred Co-Worker Scale (LPC), which identifies leadership style on a continuum ranging from 1 to 8, was used (Fiedler, Chemers & Mahar, 1976). Scores on the scale range from a low of 18 to a high of 144. A score of 64 or more is considered as a high score and is associated with the relation-oriented leadership style. A score of 57 or less is considered as reflecting a task-oriented leadership style. A questionnaire with four sections (LPC scale, leadership behaviors and practices, team concept, and background characteristics) was mailed to the population. The questionnaire was reviewed by a panel of experts (faculty and specialists) to establish face and content validity. All 62 CEDs responded (100%), with 61 of the 62 responses being usable (98.3%). Using the data collected, the reliability analysis indicated that the questionnaire had acceptable reliability [Cronbach's alphas were: leadership style = .95, and leadership behavior and practices = .55 (representation) to .78 (superior orientation) for the 12 subscales].

Seventy-two percent of the CEDs identified themselves as having a relation-oriented leadership style, with 15% having a task-oriented style and 13% having neither a relation-oriented or task-oriented leadership style. CEDs were primarily motivated by interpersonal relations and group support to accomplish personal and organizational goals.

For leadership behaviors and practices, CEDs perceived that they "often" exhibited behaviors in the areas of tolerance of freedom (4.26), consideration (4.04), production emphasis (3.98), representation (3.95), integration (3.89), initiating structure (3.82), superior orientation (3.75), and predictive accuracy (3.73). CEDs exhibited behaviors "occasionally" in the areas of demand reconciliation (3.50), tolerance of uncertainty (3.46), role assumption (3.44), and persuasiveness (3.38). The values for these subscales could range from 1 = never to 5 = always.

For team concept, CEDs reported that team goals were clear, a presence of openness and empathy existed in the team, and leadership needs were attained through distribution of leadership functions that were flexible and creative. Team decisions were attained through integrating those with minority view points, and members had some warm sense of loyalty and belonging to the team.

Significant positive, moderate to substantial relationships (r = .30 to r = .48) were found between team concept values and leadership behaviors and practices. CEDs who scored high on leadership behaviors and practices likewise scored high on team concepts.


The self-perceived description of leader behavior and practices may be utilized to identify strengths and weaknesses of CEDs in the leadership role. Such identification would help determine additional professional development efforts to assist CEDs to maximize their leadership effectiveness. The concept of working as a team should be encouraged and strengthened. Inservice education relative to building a team and working as a team needs to be developed because leadership effectiveness and team concept are related. Extension should examine strategies for enhancing the identification and development of visionary and moral leaders and developing strategies for helping Extension identify and deal with factors that "block" the organization from achieving its maximum potential.


Brown, D. V. (1991). Development of scales for effective performance of county extension directors. Unpublished doctoral thesis, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park.

Fiedler, F. E., Chemers, M. M., & Mahar, L. (1976). Improving leadership effectiveness: The leader match concept. New York: Wiley.

Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (1988). The leadership challenge. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.