Skip to content Skip to main navigation Report an accessibility issue

Guiding Theories

The Jones Center for Leadership and Service is guided in part by a number of leadership and service theories and best practices. Our overarching frameworks are the leadership identity development model and the active citizen continuum. The primary models that infuse our programming and services are the social change model, social justice theory, the servant leadership model, and Kolb’s experiential learning theory.

We wholeheartedly believe that all students can lead, and that it is our duty as Tennessee Volunteers to serve. We seek to understand and explore our unique identities through our leadership and service experiences and to celebrate diversity while advocating for social justice and inclusion for all. It is our hope that through a shared commitment to leadership and service, we can make our campus, community, and world a better place.

Leadership Identity Development Model

Leadership is collaborative, relational, and can be developed. It is a process that one can engage in at varying levels and is not tied to a leadership position.

This grounded theory breaks down the development of leadership identity into six steps: awareness, exploration/engagement, leader identification, leadership differentiation, generatively, and integration/synthesis. The process feeds into several aspects of self-development and is influenced by group engagement, a broadening view of leadership, and a changing view of the self with others, all within an encompassing framework of developmental influences.

Active Citizen Continuum

Another developmental model, the active citizen continuum tracks growth through four progressive roles:

  1. Member (not concerned with their role in social problems)
  2. Volunteer (well intentioned but not well educated about social issues)
  3. Conscientious citizen (concerned with discovering root causes; asks why)
  4. Active citizen (community becomes a priority in values and life choices)

Social Change Model

Established in 1994, the social change model approaches leadership as a purposeful, collaborative, values-based process that results in positive social change. It is based on the principle that anyone can lead and leadership can be developed in all who seek it, with the following assumptions:

  • Leadership is socially responsible—it impacts change on behalf of others.
  • Leadership is collaborative.
  • Leadership is a process, not a position.
  • Leadership is inclusive and accessible to all people.
  • Leadership is values-based.
  • Community involvement/service is a powerful vehicle for leadership.

The model incorporates the “seven Cs,” a set of values that break down into three categories—group values (collaboration, common purpose, and controversy with civility), individual values (consciousness of self, congruence, and commitment), and the community value of citizenship—which serve as values and practices of leadership, interacting in various ways to foster positive social change. 1

Social Justice

Social justice refers to a concept in which equity or justice is achieved in every aspect of society rather than in only some aspects or for some people. A world organized around social justice principles affords individuals and groups fair treatment as well as an impartial share or distribution of the advantages and disadvantages within a society.

Social justice includes a vision of a society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure. Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and the society as a whole. 2

Servant Leadership

The phrase servant leadership was coined by Robert K. Greenleaf in his 1970 essay “The Servant as Leader”:

“The servant-leader is servant first.… It begins with the natural feeling that one wants to serve, to serve first. Then conscious choice brings one to aspire to lead. That person is sharply different from one who is leader first, perhaps because of the need to assuage an unusual power drive or to acquire material possessions…The leader-first and the servant-first are two extreme types. Between them there are shadings and blends that are part of the infinite variety of human nature.”

Servant leadership is based on ten characteristics: listening, empathy, healing, awareness, persuasion, conceptualization, foresight, stewardship, commitment to the growth of people, and building community.

Kolb’s Experiential Learning Model

David Kolb’s experiential learning model defines learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience.” 3

According to Kolb, a learning should experience all four modes of the experiential learning model in sequence, but the sequence may begin anywhere in the cycle. The four modes are incorporated in all of the programs and activities within our office:

  • Active experimentation (planning; trying out what you have learned)
  • Concrete experience (doing; having an experience)
  • Reflective observation (reviewing; reflecting on the experience
  • Abstract conceptualization (concluding; learning from the experience


Student Leadership Competencies

Each program offered within the Center  has been mapped to 60 Student Leadership Competencies, discovered in Dr. Corey Seemiller’s research derived from analyzing standards, models and theories of leadership as well as the outcomes of all 522 accredited academic programs in higher education. Click here to see our Co-Curricular Map with Competencies. The competencies are broken into 8 clusters focused on students knowledge, values, abilities, and behaviors in leadership.

Defining Service

Volunteerism “The engagement of students in activities where the primary emphasis is on the service being provided and the primary intended beneficiary is clearly the service recipient” (Campus Compact, 2003).

Civic engagement “Individual and collective actions designed to identify and address issues of public concern. Civic engagement can take many forms, from individual voluntarism to organizational involvement to electoral participation. It can include efforts to directly address an issue, work with others in a community to solve a problem or interact with the institutions of representative democracy. Civic engagement encompasses a range of specific activities such as working in a soup kitchen, serving on a neighborhood association, writing a letter to an elected official or voting” (Definition of Civic Engagement, 2009).

Community service “Refers to action taken to meet the needs of others and to better the community as a whole” (Campus Compact, 1998).

Philanthropy/fundraising “The effort or inclination to increase the well-being of humankind, as by charitable aid or donations” (Philanthropy, 2000).

Service-learning “Combines service objectives with learning objectives with the intent that the activity changes both the recipient and the provider of the service. This is accomplished by combining service tasks with structured opportunities that link the task to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge content” (Learn and Serve America’s National Service-Learning Clearinghouse, n.d.).

Academic service-learning “An approach to education that ties community service to classroom instruction and reflection” (Corporation for National and Community Service, 2008).


1Astin, Helen S. and Alexander W. Astin. A Social Change Model of Leadership Development Guidebook Version III. The National Clearinghouse of Leadership Programs, 1996.

2Adams, Bell and Griffin. Teaching for Diversity and Social Justice 2nd ed.Routledge, 2007.

3Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential Learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.

4 Seemiller, C. (2013). The Student Leadership Competencies Guidebook: Designing Intentional Leadership Learning and Development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.