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Faculty Obligation: Preparing Students for Leadership


Thu Apr 11 2013


As faculty charged with teaching organizational behavior, leadership and organizational change, our obligation goes far beyond the academic.  In my view, we have an obligation to train graduate students in the art and practice of leadership.  While we have no direct authority or influence on what they do within their own organizations, I believe that we can impact them effectively by teaching inner-personal change—something that all effective leaders must do.  Bob Quinn wrote an entire book about this entitled, Deep Change.  

I wrote a short article for T+D which was published in the February, 2013 issue entitled, Inner Change: Preparing Student Managers to be Effective Leaders.  It briefly outlines both an in-class process and an out-of-class assignment which puts students outside of their comfort zones–not too much, just enough.  I challenged students to take action, to step outside of their comfort-zones.  I depicted this with an egg-shaped figure of pressure zones.  I asked them to explore new, interpersonal behaviors that others would notice, and then write about them, thereby letting me know what happened.  Their grade was based, not only, on exams but also on their personal-change experiments, whether they were successful or not. 


Because we do not lead students directly nor influence their leadership assignments, we must do so indirectly.  I found that placing graduate students in situations that they must attend to—i.e., making a visible behavioral change and then writing about it—often does demonstrate a degree of inner-change.  It teaches them important leadership lessons while doing scary things and it allows them to do it in the safety of a course assignment and under supportive tutelage.  We only have students for a short time—16 weeks—but we do have the power to make them work hard.  One student wrote that he worked harder in this course than in other he had ever taken


As teachers, I suggest that you interview your students one-on-one.  Then, with their involvement, develop an outline of a behavioral experiment that they, as managers (leaders), are willing to try back-home, on-the-job.  Then have them do it and write a term paper about it.  The end game is for their new behavior to be noticed.  The results will be most interesting to you and invaluable to them.

Robert S. Toronto, Ph.D.

University of Michigan—Dearborn


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