In the 1980s and '90s, opportunities were minimal for professional development in the field of leadership development through Cooperative Extension on the national level. Although many Home Economics Extension faculty delivered leadership development programs in their various states, linkage between the professional practice of leadership development and research in the field was lacking.
The first Extension Leadership Development Seminar, called Empowering Adults As Leaders Through Home Economics Programs,was held on July 10, 1988 in Charlotte, NC. These early seminars were designed to "(a) strengthen the leadership skills of professionals who work to develop leadership capabilities of others and (b) strengthen and broaden the knowledge base which supports research, teaching and extension programs in leadership."
The second seminar, Developing Human Capital Through Extension Leadership Programs, was held August 6, 1989 in Manhattan, KS. At this key meeting, participants recognized the need for information sharing regarding leadership research, teaching, and practice.
The Association of Leadership Educators was formalized at the third seminar held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 17-18, 1990, titled People Problems and Solutions: The Leadership Connection. Members of the planning committee proposed the development of a professional association that would provide opportunities to bridge theory, research and practice in leadership education. Elizabeth Bolton, Marjorie Hamann, Ann Hancook, Tom Mounter, Hariett Moyer, Katey Walker and Lynn White, "founding mothers and Tom," as they are affectionately known, laid the groundwork and facilitated the discussion leading to the participants' vote to form The Association of Leadership Educators.
Participants in the 1990 conference had the opportunity to become Charter members of ALE by paying dues of $25. This persistent group was determined that ALE would succeed. Their vision was for a professional association that focused on leadership education, linked theory to practice, disseminated research and provided professional development opportunities for anyone engaged in leadership education, both formal and non-formal.
The first official ALE conference and annual meeting was held in Denver, Colorado on September 13-14, 1991, with Elizabeth Bolton serving as President. Obviously there was widespread interest in a professional association linking theory and practice for leadership development, for at the first meeting there were over 40 presenters representing 20 states.
In 2002, ALE launched the Journal of Leadership Education. Tom Gallager was the first editor of the Journal. As an electronic peer-reviewed journal, it provides a forum for linking research to practice and is intended to promote a dialogue that engages both academics and practitioners. Issues of the Journal of Leadership Education contain Research and Theory Features, Idea and Application Briefs, as well a Commentary category for readers to share their views and thoughts about leadership education and to promote discussion.
Established as the premier international professional organization for leadership educators, ALE has continued to grow and expand with membership in several foreign countries. Membership is open to any individual whose career interest is leadership education. As we celebrate our accomplishments as a professional association, we look forward to the future. A strong foundation of leadership has brought us to this point and certainly with the vision and unwavering dedication of the early leaders, ALE will continue to grow and expand as it engages members in fulfilling the mission to strengthen and sustain the expertise of professional leadership educators.