June 2000 // Volume 38 // Number 3 // Feature Articles // 3FEA2

Previous Article Issue Contents Previous Article

Southern Extension Leadership Development: Leadership Development for a Learning Organization

Cooperative Extension Directors of the Southern Region sponsored the establishment of a professional development program that addresses collective leadership and institutional change. The purpose of this professional development program, the Southern Extension Leadership Development (SELD), is to enhance managerial capacity, communications, proficiency, and team skills. An objective assessment of SELD participants on 12 managerial competencies indicated a composite score at the 54th percentile. Participants scored highest on "Planning and Scheduling work" (62nd percentile). Competencies in which participants scored below the 50th percentile were "Listening and Organizing" (48th percentile) and "Thinking Clearly and Analytically" (42nd percentile). Participant pretest/posttest measures indicated significant increases in decision-making skills by participants. Extension staff attributed these increases to the SELD program.

Howard Ladewig
Professor and Leader for Program Development and Evaluation
Department of Agricultural Education
Texas A&M University
Internet address: H-ladewig@tamu.edu

Frederick R. Rohs
Professor and Extension
Staff Development Specialist
Department of Agricultural Leadership, Education and Communication
University of Georgia
Internet address: epsdfrr@arches.uga.edu


During the past decade, the Cooperative Extension System, like most public and private organizations and agencies, has faced an era of economic scarcity. In addition, the rapid development of a global economy and increasingly complex and changing social, economic, and environmental conditions at the local, community, and state level have produced several external factors impacting its ability to carry out its mission and purpose. These external factors include:

  • Accelerated rate of technological change,
  • Changing demographics of the people to be served,
  • Increased competition for public funding,
  • Shifting sources of support for teaching, research, and Extension, and
  • Accessibility of world's knowledge base to whomever has the technology to access it.

In addition to the changing concerns and priorities of local communities and states, the rapid expansion and distribution of the world's knowledge base are bringing profound and interconnected changes that are producing internal challenges. These internal challenges include:

  • Becoming more customer driven,
  • Ensuring cost effective approaches to make the most of limited budgets,
  • Becoming fast and flexible to meet changing customer needs, and
  • Continuing to improve to satisfy customer expectations.

Because of the speed at which change is occurring, state Cooperative Extension Systems, as well as other organizations, are at various stages of organizational transformation designed to enable them to respond quickly to change as needed.

Organizations that respond to the changing nature of work and authority relationships are learning organizations (Senge, 1990). The transition to a learning organization, however, is not easy. A major concern is that employees and supervisors often are expected to address problems and issues for which they have limited experience, and they must do so using authority-influence relationships for which they have little or no preparation. For these organizations to excel in the future, they must discover how to tap people's commitment and capacity to learn as well as

involve people at all levels in the organization (Senge, 1990).

A second challenge facing Cooperative Extension is the emergence of the information technology era. This new era has brought radical changes to organizational function and structure. Extension systems that control and channel information solely through hierarchical structures may have great difficulty being competitive in the information-rich global market place. The management principles and leadership styles followed in these institutions/hierarchical structures are often no longer appropriate. New management competencies and leadership styles will be needed.

A third challenge impacting the transition to a learning organization is that few Extension administrators are professionally trained in management competencies and styles of leadership appropriate for learning organizations. Rather, they have been promoted to administration because they excelled in their subject-matter discipline, and they learn their new craft by emulating those who proceeded them. While this practice is commonplace throughout the industrialized world, these administrators often lack the necessary managerial and leadership competence necessary to truly transform their organizations to compete in the information technology era (Patterson, 1998).

Southern Extension Leadership Development (SELD)

In response to the growing need to understand and cope with the many changes currently and potentially impacting the Extension System, Cooperative Extension Directors and Administrators of the Southern Region called for the establishment of a regional leadership development program. The result was the formation of Southern Extension Leadership Development (SELD). An advisory committee composed of representatives of four Southern states with expertise in several disciplines, including participants of the National Extension Leadership Development--NELD, helped formulate the program.

SELD is a virtual organization that knows no state boundaries. Its formation followed the principles of collective leadership in that it was developed as an informal system whose support from each of the Directors and Administrators of Cooperative Extension in the Southern Region was based on their level of participation in SELD. SELD is supported by user fees, and the individuals who serve as resources for SELD are involved in leadership activities within their respective states.

The SELD program is unique in that the competency-based approach builds around the skills individuals and groups in Cooperative Extension need to be effective in the future. With such knowledge, Extension educators can design professional development plans that are relevant, useful, and customized to their needs.

The centerpiece of SELD is the Managerial Assessment of Proficiency (MAP), developed by Training House, Inc. of Princeton, NJ. MAP is a video-driven, competency-based, computer-scored simulation consisting of 200 items that assesses a participant's proficiency in 12 competencies, 2 leadership styles, and 8 values/drives. Validation studies employing rank order correlation analysis relating performance on the job with performance on MAP were conducted by Training House, Inc. with over 250 managers and supervisors in several organizations. Correlations between these two measures were high, ranging between .75 to .92. Split-half reliability was reported between .75 and .76 for the various competency scales (Measuring Competency, 1986). Individual scores are compared to those of over 62,000 individuals from over 500 organizations worldwide who have taken MAP.

Training House firmly believes that one manages tasks and leads people. Therefore, the 12 competencies upon which SELD participants are assessed are divided into two main categories: managing tasks and leading people.

Managing Your Job

Building the Team

Time Management

Training, Coaching, and Delegating

Setting Goals

Appraising People and Performances

Planning and Scheduling Work

Disciplining and Counseling

Relating to Others

Thinking Clearly

Listening and Organizing

Identifying and Solving Problems

Giving Clear Information

Making Decisions, Weighing Risk

Getting Unbiased Information

Thinking Clearly and Analytically

How Extension Compares

The first SELD workshop was held in April, 1994, at the Kentucky 4-H Center. Since its inception, 900+ participants have gone through SELD. Participants have come primarily from Cooperative Extension Systems and the Land Grant University System of the Southern Region of the United States. They include vice-presidents, directors of Cooperative Extension and Experiment Stations, deans, center directors, department heads, district and county directors, county Extension agents, and faculty from the 13 Southern states and Delaware.

Each MAP workshop is 2 days in length. It begins with an evening session to introduce individuals to the conceptual framework of SELD. Day one is devoted to assessing the 12 competencies. The assessment is based on wrong/right answers. The second day focuses on interpretation of results and discusses leadership in a changing organization. Participants also develop a learning plan to increase their leadership and managerial knowledge and skills. These learning plans provide the foundation for follow-up seminars on the 12 competencies.

As a result of these workshops, participants have reported significant (p<.001) increases in their understanding of competencies needed for effective decision-making, their individual level of competency attainment in each area, and their need for improvement.

Table 1 reflects the managerial assessment of proficiency group composite assessment for the nearly 900 who have participated in SELD. Overall, participants scored at the 54th percentile when compared to the 62,000 individuals in the MAP database.

As a group, Extension's strengths are in the competencies of:

  • "Planning and Scheduling Work" (62nd percentile),
  • "Identifying and Solving Problems" (59th percentile),
  • "Making Decisions, Weighing Risks" (58th percentile),
  • "Giving Clear Information" (56th percentile), and
  • "Training, Coaching and Delegating" (58th percentile).

These are important competencies that Extension workers must have to design and implement educational programs that meet customer needs or to assist clients with answers to questions in a timely and efficient manner. These competencies will become even more important as resources and staff become more limited. The use of para-professionals, work teams, and volunteers may help us to deliver more programs or more effectively use our resources; however, Extension staff will need the skills to effectively utilize these human resources.

Several competencies will need strengthening if Extension staff are to design and implement customer-driven programs that are cost effective and satisfy customer expectations. These include:

  • "Setting Goals and Standards,"
  • "Getting Unbiased Information,"
  • "Time Management and Prioritizing,"
  • "Appraising People and Performance," and
  • "Disciplining and Counseling."

Our participant group scores were average or slightly above average (50th - 53rd percentile) for these competencies. Federal and state governments as well as clientele groups are requiring increased accountability for the resources we use. Such accountability often takes the form of requiring public agencies to set measurable goals and standards. To meet organizational goals and standards, individual goals and standards must be set. This requires that Extension professionals have the ability to manage activities and projects toward measurable goals, manage their own and other's time effectively, and obtain unbiased information about the quality of the program being delivered and those delivering it.

The weaker competency areas were "Thinking Clearly and Analytically" (42nd percentile) and "Listening and Organizing" (48th percentile). As educators, we are constantly interpreting situations and information, much of it in the form of raw data, before deciding what action to take. This requires operating with a sound database identifying valid premises and drawing logical conclusions from them. The quality of these decisions is also related to the quality of information we receive and how we understand, organize, and analyze information. This process is directly related to our skill in listening to the facts and feelings of others. It should be noted that in the world of work, one's performance in one competency area may be correlated to performance in another competency area. In MAP, however, each of the competencies is scored independently of all other competencies.

Table 1.

Group Composite Managerial Assessment of Proficiency for SELD Participants (N=906)







Managing Your Job

Time Management & Prioritizing



Setting Goals & Standards



Planning & Scheduling Work



Relating to Others

Listening & Organizing



Giving Clear Information



Getting Unbiased Information



Building the Team

Training, Coaching, & Delegating



Appraising People & Performance



Disciplining & Counseling



Thinking Clearly

Identifying & Solving Problems



Making Decisions, Weighing Risk



Thinking Clearly & Analytically



Overall Proficiency Composite



Faculty completing the SELD workshops were asked to rate their knowledge on 20 items related to their decision-making skills using a pretest/posttest measure. This measure consisted of a five-point scale (1 = poor to 5 = excellent). The results were summated and statistically analyzed. Significant increases (p < .001 for matched pair t-test) occurred in their decision-making skills. Extension staff attributed those increases to the SELD workshop. Using the same five-point scale, participants also rated the relevance of the materials (4.3), the quality of the program content (4.3), usefulness in support of professional development (4.5), and feedback from the assessment instrument (4.7).

Development of the Learning Organization

Faculty, to be successful in this new era, must be able to manage tasks and lead people. They must have competencies in working in teams, interdisciplinary communications, and use of results assessments based on performance rather than activity. The long-range objective of Southern Extension Leadership Development (SELD) is to prepare existing and potential leaders in Extension, research, and teaching in the USDA-Land Grant University System for the transition to the learning organization. To effectively make the transition from a functional hierarchy to a learning organization that utilizes an information technology structure requires a three-pronged approach.

The First Step

A systematic training program designed to develop leadership and managerial capacity, communications proficiency, and team skills should be provided to existing and potential leaders in Extension. Organizations in the information technology era will increasingly rely on self-designed, self-managed teams. Because MAP provides an objective measure of managerial competencies, participants have a better understanding of their individual strengths and weaknesses. As a consequence, participants are able to target areas for improvement.

Follow-up seminars are being provided to participants wanting to improve in one or more of the 12 competencies for which they were tested. Each seminar lasts about 4 hours. Participants view analyses of episodes drawn from MAP. Working interactively with video and workbook, participants identify basic skills and techniques. They then apply their new learning in a variety of hands-on exercises: case method, role play, script analysis, games/simulations, and self-inventories. Participants also develop action plans to guide their managerial development.

The Second Step

Extension administrators should continually assess their knowledge of and skills in utilizing leadership and management principles required of a learning organization. While the command and control principles served the system well in the industrial era, the speed and complexity of information transfer requires leadership and management principles and organizational structures that tap people's commitment and capacity to learn at all levels of the learning organization. Executive development programs should be developed for Extension administrators to help them ensure an organizational structure that is 1) customer driven, 2) cost effective, 3) fast and flexible, and 4) continually improving.

The Third Step

Many individuals have completed professional development programs on collective leadership and institutional change. This core group could provide opportunities for new connections and greater communications on performance development of the individual and of the learning organization.


Committee on the Future of Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture, Board on Agriculture, National Research Council. (1995). Colleges of agriculture at the Land Grant Universities: A profile. Washington, D.C. National Academy Press.

Management Assessment of Proficiency (MAP). (1995). Training House, Princeton, NJ.

Patterson, T. J. (1998). Commentary II: A new paradigm for Extension administration. Journal of Extension [On-line]. 36(1). Available: < http://www.joe.org/joe/1998february/comm1.html>.

Senge, P. M. (1990). The fifth discipline. The art & practice of the learning organization. New York: A Currency Book, Published by Doubleday.