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"A Part of Who I Am:" a Phenomenological Study of Emerging Adult Leader Identity Development Through Family Storytelling

Kate D McCain, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


This phenomenological study describes leader identity development in emerging adult college students and the role family stories play in making sense of that leader identity. Twenty-one emerging adult leaders ranging in age 19-25 from a large Midwestern university participated in this study. All participants were involved in Recognized Student Organizations (RSO) on campus and self-identified as leaders in positional or relational roles. Data collection included two semi-structured interviews, leadership artifacts, and participant journals. Findings from this study are divided into three phases: (a) leader identity development stage, (b) family storytelling narrative themes, and (c) a cross case analysis to synthesize the data. In phase one emerging adults were categorized along the Leader Identity Development model (Komives et al., 2006): Stage Two, Exploration/ Engagement (N=1); Stage Three, Leader Identified (N= 9); and Stage Four, Leadership Differentiated (N=11). Although a cyclical model, the stages are an interpretation of the students’ current level of leadership comprehension and leadership behaviors at the time of the study. In phase two, four overarching family story narrative themes were identified: (a) “Perseverance,” (b) “Family Spirit,” (c) “Tough Love,” and (d) “Butterfly Effect.” Phase three of the study is presented in a Cross Case Analysis to synthesize leader identity development and the role of family storytelling. The Cross Case Analysis revealed patterns indicating the leadership identity stage predicted the stories participants told. The ways in which individuals make sense of leadership identity is related to their current level of leadership development and the meaning making in narratives about overcoming hardships and through building connections/community. Overall, the results supports family legacy stories influence participants’ identities as leaders in their meaning-making, values, beliefs, and behaviors depending on their current stage of leader identity. Retrospective family storytelling shaped or helped individuals to make sense of their leader identity by retelling intergenerational stories. Thus, the results suggest adapting the Leadership Identity Development Model to include the role of family socialization.

Subject Area

Educational leadership

Recommended Citation

McCain, Kate D, ""A Part of Who I Am:" a Phenomenological Study of Emerging Adult Leader Identity Development Through Family Storytelling" (2019). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI13858753.