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Eye on Psi Chi: Spring 2008
Leadership Development and Strategies for Engaging Students
Kenneth A. Weaver, PhD, Emporia Sate University (KS)

Being an active member of an active Psi Chi chapter is one of the best methods for building leadership, nurturing student professional development, promoting the ideals of Psi Chi, sustaining the department’s community, developing productive citizens, and producing loyal alumni. In the Pyramid of Success model, the first level, Officer and Faculty Advisor Leadership, undergirds chapter vitality, with opportunities for leadership and leadership development infused throughout all of the stages to increase student engagement. Psi Chi offers a wealth of resources to support chapters and their members, including Eye on Psi Chi, the Psi Chi website, and the Chapter Activity Guide (

Figure 1. The Pyramid of Success.
What a fine incubator for developing leadership skills is the Psi Chi chapter (Mathie, 2006b)! Promoting Psi Chi’s purpose "to encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship of the individual members in all fields, particularly in psychology, and to advance the science of psychology” requires chapter officers who can generate, deliver, and sustain a program of activities amid a generous array of challenges. Competent leadership increases student engagement and undergirds a chapter’s viability and vitality. Psi Chi is committed to developing leadership qualities (e.g., Giordano & Voss, 2002; Sternberg, 2005; Styles, 2000; Youth, 2005) that are essential for maintaining strong chapters (e.g., Yost Hammer, 2003).

Jobe and Soyez (2005) described the "Pyramid of Success” model depicted in Figure 1 to capture how the Emporia (KS) State University Psi Chi Chapter functions. Although the foundation of this model is Officer and Faculty Advisor Leadership, developing quality leadership permeates all five levels of the model to engage students and maintain a vibrant chapter. This article describes strategies that the Emporia State University chapter uses to implement the Pyramid of Success and also offers other suggestions that chapter leaders might find helpful to increase their chapter’s vitality.

Officer and Faculty Advisor Leadership
Good leadership is essential for a chapter to become vibrant and offer the level of professional development that inspires its members. Identifying good leaders is accomplished in several ways such as asking students and faculty whom they regard as potential leaders and finding out the leadership backgrounds of members. My favorite approach is seeing who faithfully attends chapter meetings and participates in chapter activities. Offering members opportunities to lead by chairing a committee, inviting a speaker, coordinating a project, planning a fund-raiser, or undertaking some other activity provides members opportunities to demonstrate their skill, commitment, and leadership to the chapter and helps current leaders and the advisor identify and nurture future officers. This approach does not guarantee that a member will be a good leader, but an enthusiastic and hardworking member is evidence for a committed leader and good role model.

Officer selection and election. Good leadership requires a "goodness of fit” between the responsibilities of the office and the member. A member who might do an outstanding job seeing the "big picture” as President might struggle with the attentiveness to detail needed by the chapter’s secretary. The chapter’s Executive Committee (EC) can develop a slate matching potential candidates with the expectations of the offices. EC members can then meet face-toface with each potential candidate to describe the responsibilities of the office, explain the rationale for the goodness of fit, and assure the potential candidate that the other leaders and the advisor will provide the support needed to be successful.

Two traditional approaches to electing officers are soliciting nominations during a meeting and offering a slate of nominees. A blended approach allows the chapter officers to present nominees who have demonstrated leadership potential and then request additional nominations. Competent leadership is essential for a quality chapter.

Does the chapter have its election in December for the calendar year or May for the academic year? Each approach has benefits and problems. For example, one advantage of a December election is that experienced leaders will be in place during the summer to plan for the fall. However, the nominee pool lacks seniors, who graduate in the spring.

Transitioning to the new leadership team.
A chapter can transition from outgoing to new officers almost seamlessly using three elements. First, position descriptions for all offices are the basis for effectively training new officers and ensuring continuity. Second, during the year, each officer maintains a notebook or CD describing in detail the role, responsibilities, tasks, activities, and expectations of the office and including electronic copies of all forms and form letters (e.g., new initiate notification). At Emporia State, the chapter has secure space on the university server for each officer to maintain a virtual notebook which is readily updated to reflect current practices and traditions of the chapter. Third, outgoing officers use the position descriptions and notebook or CD to orient their new counterparts to their positions. New officers become familiar with their positions efficiently, which in turn increases their competence.

Leadership training is often offered through one’s student government or Student Affairs department. Psi Chi promotes and supports leadership through the National Leadership Conference, articles in Eye on Psi Chi, the extensive content on its web site (, and programming at the regional and national conventions. In addition, the advisor, members of the Psi Chi National Council, and staff in the Psi Chi National Office are useful resources (Mathie, 2006b).

Leadership philosophy.
A valuable exercise for both new and experienced Psi Chi officers and advisors is defining their leader- ship philosophy. One method is using personal experience to answer questions designed to reveal their beliefs and behaviors about leadership. The Appendix contains a list of these questions. Officers evaluate the fit between their leadership beliefs and behaviors and then summarize their leadership philosophy in a couple of paragraphs to align those beliefs and behaviors more closely. An officer retreat offers the extended time needed to write and share philosophies and engage in a discussion of leadership. One’s philosophy changes over time, so doing the exercise periodically (e.g., every 3 years) keeps it current.

Executive Committee meetings. With officers knowledgeable and confident about the expectations for their positions and an advisor supportive of the chapter leadership, what lively and productive meetings are possible when the EC meets to discuss the chapter’s goals, activities, plans, and direction! In the best sense, the president and other officers "model the way” (Giordano & Voss, 2002, p. 4) and lead by example. How frequently do the officers and advisor meet for planning and problem solving? A monthly meeting staggered every 2 weeks with a monthly chapter meeting allows the officers to plan and deliver effective programming while addressing the needs of the chapter. The atmosphere of the EC meetings should encourage open, honest, and frank discussion, especially when disagreeing. Rarely are ideas fully formed when first proposed; rather, they are honed through critical analysis and discussion. EC meetings also can include a time for discussing and reflecting about leadership and its challenges. A "minute for leadership” on the agenda puts leadership in the forefront of the chapter’s priorities for developing students’ professionalism.

The faculty advisor’s role. The optimal relationship between the officers and faculty advisor emphasizes the balance the advisor maintains between too much intrusiveness and not enough involvement (Sleigh & Nelson, 2005). If too intrusive, the officers’ leadership is undermined; if too aloof, the chapter’s focus and initiative may diffuse and the activities may flounder. Sleigh and Nelson’s (2005) outstanding article guides both new and experienced faculty advisors to greater effectiveness and stronger chapters.

Besides articulating their leadership philosophies, advisors should articulate their advising philosophies. What are the advisor’s beliefs and behaviors about advising the officers and members of the chapter? What does the advisor do to modulate involvement in the chapter’s business? Does the advisor include inspiring chapter officers as one of the advising responsibilities, and if so, what actions are inspirational?

The advisor’s role is always important, but the role changes with the needs of the chapter. For a struggling chapter, the advisor’s priority is to enlist a cadre of student leaders to provide several years of stability. For the stable chapter, on the other hand, the advisor ensures that traditions are maintained and encourages the leadership to develop new directions for the chapter.

Leadership to Advance Membership Commitment and Dedication
Welcoming new members. How do leaders and members welcome new members and celebrate their accomplishments? A reception, initiation banquet, invited speaker, induction ceremony, or other ritual conveys to the new initiates and their guests that Psi Chi membership is an honor, and that membership comes with an expectation of commitment and dedication to the chapter.

Rewarding active members.
Does the chapter provide perks to members for involvement in the chapter? For example, in the Emporia State chapter, members earn points for various activities and responsibilities such as meeting attendance, participating in service and fund-raising activities, or chairing a committee, which they can redeem for something special such as free Psi Chi honor cords or a travel subsidy to a convention.

Building community.
Community includes a shared sense of belonging, an obligation toward fellow members, mutual respect, and a common physical space (Appleby, 2000). The chapter meeting is the core to community, but scheduling meeting times convenient for on campus and commuting undergraduate and graduate members is difficult. My department stopped scheduling classes on Tuesday and Thursday from 11:00 am to noon to use this time for student organization meetings, invited speakers, colloquia, and faculty meetings. Members attending classes in other departments or working at this time cannot attend, but meeting attendance has improved, strengthening the cohesiveness of the group and redirecting the effort expended to find a meeting time to other activities. This solution is not practical for all departments, but creative options exist for finding a meeting time.

Chapter communications is the glue that bonds the members. To augment chapter meetings, the secretary emails all members the minutes of the meetings, the calendar of events, and other chapter news. These items are also posted on the chapter’s website. A newsletter is distributed to members periodically.

Programs that promote student academic and career success (Sanders, Basham, & Ansburg, 2006) elevate the chapter’s stature. Invited speakers discussing their research or professions and fund-raisers supporting convention attendance foster chapter esprit and visibility.

Fun activities provide members with relaxation and socializing. A beginning-ofthe- year picnic, end-of-the-semester potluck luncheon, weekly pizza, brown-bag luncheon, softball/bowling, movie, and game night are a few of the many ideas for having fun.

Commitment to service. Service projects expand the chapter’s focus to the greater community beyond the institution. Psi Chi’s national service projects include Adopt-a- Shelter, Archives of the History of American Psychology, Food Drives, Habitat for Humanity, and UNICEF. Mathie (2006a) listed a number of benefits to members, advisors, and chapters that accrue from service activities, including satisfaction about helping others in need, partnering with community agencies, knowledge application, and increased understanding of social problems.

Leadership to Advance Effective Programming
Programming defines the chapter and encompasses all the chapter’s activities. Meetings and fund-raisers require leadership for planning, implementing, and involving chapter members.

Chapter meetings. Regularly scheduled meetings allow the officers and members to attend to the chapter’s business and provide opportunities for professional development. Agendas ensure that all business is covered in the allotted time. When posted in advance, agendas also advertise the meeting and encourage attendance.

Business meetings typically include committee reports, the calendar of events, reflection on recent activities, preparing for upcoming events, and discussion of future plans. The president moderates these meetings, and the faculty advisor prepares the president with pointers to invite all perspectives, synthesize the key points, work toward agreement, and keep the meeting running smoothly.
Questions to Guide Articulating One's Leadership Philosophy
Developing Self-Awareness as a Leader
  1. What characteristics about myself do I regard as promoting my leadership and leadership development?
  2. What personal characteristics do I regard as hindering my leadership and leadership development?
  3. What aspects of leadership am I most comfortable with?
  4. What aspects of leadership am I least comfortable with?
  5. What one change can I make to myself to become a better leader?
  6. What are my three greatest strengths as chapter leader?
  7. What are my three greatest areas of improvement as chapter leader?
Promoting My Psi Chi Chapter Through My Leadership
  1. What am I doing to promote a culture of "cooperation in the investigation and cultivation of the mind” (Psyche Cheires) in my chapter?
  2. What am I doing to ensure that all members are active participants in the life of the chapter?
  3. What variables define the environment in which my chapter operates and how does this environment facilitate and impair the professional growth of members?
  4. What am I doing to nurture collaboration and collegiality among Psi Chi members?
  5. How do I work with the other officers and the members to produce stimulating programming?
  6. What am I doing to create opportunities for student professional development for Psi Chi members?
  7. How am I accessible to the other Psi Chi leaders?
  8. What am I doing to support the other Psi Chi leaders?
  9. What do I think is the optimal frequency of meetings with the officers and faculty advisor to prepare for meetings and taking care of the chapter’s business?
  10. How does the chapter fit into the department and the department’s mission?
  11. What am I doing to build the department’s support for the chapter?
  12. What do I do to clearly articulate the benefits of being a part of Psi Chi?
  13. What do I do to clearly articulate Psi Chi’s importance in the department?
  14. What steps do I take to prevent, manage, and resolve conflict in the chapter?
  15. What specifically is occurring in the chapter to minimize conflict and what more (or less) can be done?
  16. What behaviors indicate that I model appropriate ethical conduct as a leader?
  17. What do I consider to be the most significant values undergirding a quality chapter, and what am I doing to instill and sustain those values?
  18. What do I do to effectively communicate the chapter’s needs, problems, goals, and accomplishments to the department chair, department faculty, and student government?
  19. What am I doing to promote Psi Chi in the university and community? How effective am I in this promotion?
  20. What am I doing to build collaborations with external constituencies such as other chapters, community agencies, and civic groups?
  21. What am I doing to promote department, university, and community service in the chapter?
  22. What is the evidence that addresses my effectiveness as a Psi Chi leader?
Most meetings feature a program of some kind. Invited speakers are popular, readily available, and willing to present. Psychology faculty, a local psychologist/psychiatrist, the president of the local/state psychological association, the president of the local/state counseling association, a local mental health center professional, a department of corrections officer or counselor, a police officer, a lie detector administrator, an FBI agent, a lawyer, an alumnus, a school psychologist, a human resources director, a sales representative, an executive of a non-profit organization (e.g., American Red Cross, Big Brothers/Big Sisters, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts), and many others are good options for speakers.

Each issue of Eye on Psi Chi contains articles readily converted into presentations and discussions for dynamic chapter meetings. Members are enthused by such topics as analyzing their transcript (Appleby, 2003), writing a compelling personal statement (Bottoms & Nysse, 1999), being a savvy psychology major (Appleby, 2002), getting into graduate school (Arnold & Horrigan, 2002), and exploring careers (Morgan & Korschgen, 2001).

Members like programs involving other students. A panel of graduate students or recent alumni discussing how to get into graduate school or preparing for the Graduate Record Examination is always well received. Another popular program is majors who are international students presenting what psychology is in their native countries.

Fund-raisers. Fund-raisers require suggestion, selection, planning, and implementation phases. The selection phase works well during an EC meeting with officers debating the pros and cons of suggested fund-raisers. Once a fund-raiser is selected, the planning begins. The chapter might have an officer solely dedicated to planning fundraisers, otherwise a committee or member plans and coordinates with the officers. Once the plan is honed, members volunteer for the tasks to implement the plan and have a successful fund-raiser.

Deciding what the chapter will do with the money before the fund-raiser tends to motivate members to participate. A lucrative fund-raiser easily becomes an annual tradition, and chapter health is advanced if a portion of a fund-raiser’s proceeds is donated to a cause supported by the membership. Benjamin (2004), for example, encouraged chapters to donate some of the proceeds from fund-raisers to the Archives of the History of American Psychology.

Leadership to Advance Chapter Traditions
Starting a tradition requires only repeating an activity. Sustaining that tradition through changes of officers and advisors, however, takes commitment. For an active chapter, traditions do not interfere with new ideas and new projects.

Traditions reflect the chapter’s dedication and benefit new officers with immediate goals for planning chapter programming. Sustaining and improving traditions provides valuable leadership experience. Traditions include rituals (a dinner with the induction ceremony), service projects (e.g., Habitat for Humanity), fund-raisers, or other causes (e.g., food drives).

A chapter portfolio, scrapbook, or website provides members, faculty, and the "world” a history of the chapter’s traditions and accomplishments. Such documentation of activity can be useful when the chapter requests resources from the department, college, or university. A historian, photographer, or webmaster can chronicle the chapter’s activities, involving more students in chapter leadership.

Leadership to Advance Student Professional Development
Student professional development encompasses any activity that prepares students for getting a job or entering graduate school. The Guidelines for the Undergraduate Psychology Major (American Psychological Association, 2007) present 10 goals for undergraduate psychology majors: Knowledge Base of Psychology, Research Methods in Psychology, Critical Thinking Skills in Psychology, Application of Psychology, Values in Psychology, Information and Technological Literacy, Communication Skills, Sociocultural and International Awareness, Personal Development, and Career Planning and Development. Chapter activities that advance any of these 10 goals in turn advance professional development and promote engagement for both undergraduate and graduate students.

A vibrant Psi Chi chapter results from good student and faculty leadership, expands the quality of the student experience, and contributes to recruitment and retention of both students and faculty. Leadership development is a Psi Chi priority. Eye on Psi Chi contains articles which support officer and chapter improvement. The Psi Chi website ( is rich with suggestions and resources for officers and advisors. The Chapter Activity Guide (page 31 or at is an excellent compilation of ideas for all areas of a chapter’s operations.

American Psychological Association. (2007). APA guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major. Washington, DC: Author. Retrieved from

Appleby, D. C. (2000). Hoping to build more community in your psychology department? Here's how. Monitor on Psychology, 31(10). Retrieved November 30, 2006, from nov00/community.html

Appleby, D. (2002, Fall). The savvy psychology major. Eye on Psi Chi, 7(1), 28.

Appleby, D. (2003, Winter). What does your transcript say about you, and what can you do if it says things you don’t like? Eye on Psi Chi, 7(2), 21-23.

Arnold, K. L, & Horrigan, K. L. (2002, Fall). Gaining admission into the graduate program of your choice. Eye on Psi Chi, 7(1), 30-33.

Benjamin, L. T. (2004, Fall). Psychology’s national treasures. Eye on Psi Chi, 9(1), 16-17, 39.

Bottoms, B. L., & Nysse, K. L. (1999, Fall). Applying to graduate school: Writing a compelling personal statement. Eye on Psi Chi, 4(1), 20-22

Giordano, P. J., & Voss, K. D. (2002, Spring). Leadership matters. Eye on Psi Chi, 6(3), 4-5.

Jobe, S., & Soyez, A. (2005, Fall). Pyramid of success. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(1), 10.

Mathie, V. A. (2006a, Winter). The value of Psi Chi service. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(2), 6, 18.

Mathie, V. A. (2006b, Summer). Promoting leadership: Psi Chi’s National Leadership Conference. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(4), 8.

Morgan, B. L., & Korschgen, A. J. (2001, Spring). Psychology career exploration made easy: Using the web to do the job. Eye on Psi Chi, 5(3), 35-36.

Sanders, C. E., Basham, M. E., & Ansburg, P. I. (2006, May). Building a sense of community in undergraduate psychology departments. APS Observer, 19(5), 37-40.

Sleigh, M. J., & Nelson, D. W. (2005, Fall). Maintaining the balancing act as faculty advisor. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(1), 18-19, 36-37.

Styles, S. P. (2000, Winter). Leadership, publicity, activities, and building community: Four keys to a vital Psi Chi chapter. Eye on Psi Chi, 4(2), 30-31.

Sternberg, R. J. (2005, Fall). Producing tomorrow’s leaders—In psychology and everything else. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(1), 14-15, 32-33.

Yost Hammer, E. (2003, Summer). Helpful tips for Psi Chi chapters. Eye on Psi Chi, 7(4), 3, 8.

Youth, R. A. (2005, Fall). What constitutes leadership. Eye on Psi Chi, 10(1), 4, 35.

Kenneth A. Weaver, PhD, received his BS in biology and MEd in secondary science education from the University of South Carolina and his PhD in educational psychology from Columbia University (NY). Weaver joined the Emporia State University (ESU) faculty in 1986, was inducted into Psi Chi in 1987, served as Psi Chi coadvisor from 1990 to 1993, and has been chapter advisor since 1993. The ESU chapter received the 2000 Regional Chapter Award and the 2005 Ruth Hubbard Cousins National Chapter Award. He received the 2001 Regional Faculty Advisor Award and the 2006 Florence L. Denmark National Faculty Advisor Award. In 2000, Weaver received an APA Presidential Citation for outstanding leadership in support of teaching and learning. In 2002, he received the Robert S. Daniel Teaching Excellence Award from APA’s Society for the Teaching of Psychology. He was the 50th President of the Southwestern Psychological Association and is a fellow of APA.

Copyright 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 3) by Psi Chi, the International Honor Society in Psychology


Eye on Psi Chi is a magazine designed to keep members and alumni up-to-date with all the latest information about Psi Chi’s programs, awards, and chapter activities. It features informative articles about careers, graduate school admission, chapter ideas, personal development, the various fields of psychology, and important issues related to our discipline.

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