A Rare and Valued Asset: Developing Leaders for Research, Scientific, Technology and Engineering Organizations

By Sansone, Chris; Schreiber-Abshire, Wendy | Organization Development Journal, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

A Rare and Valued Asset: Developing Leaders for Research, Scientific, Technology and Engineering Organizations


Sansone, Chris, Schreiber-Abshire, Wendy, Organization Development Journal


Abstract

Leadership is an area of intense interest and need particularly among research and development, scientific, technology, engineering and mathematic (S.T.E.M.) organizations. S.T.E.M. leaders face cultural challenges unique from those of mainstream businesses and have development needs not adequately addressed in the organizational literature. We summarize a current mainstream leadership development program design, focus on the unique needs of S.T.E.M. organizations and their leaders, and recommend five design elements for the S.T.E.M. leadership development program.

Introduction

Leadership development is a foremost topic in business literature and is one of the most prolific and fastest growing areas of interest in organizational development (Sharkey, 1999). Yet there remains an acute need to develop leaders. Survey results from over 500 senior learning professionals indicate leadership and development to be the top training priority among U.S. profit, non-profit, and government organizations with experienced managers increasingly recognized as urgently in need (Hall, 2005). Even so, according to the U.S. Conference Board, businesses report a significant decline of confidence in their leadership strength, down from a high of 50% in 1997 to about one-third in 2001 (Barrett & Beeson, 2002). Ironically, although leadership development is seen as a good idea according to a recent survey of Fortune 100 level businesses, only 44% of them had formal well-defined, well-structured systems for developing high-potential employees (Giber, Carter & Goldsmith, 2000).

Professionals in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M) who find themselves in positions of management have unique leadership development needs not fully addressed in organizational literature. S.T.E.M environments are similarly unique from those among mainstream business. They are "are long over due for leadership skills building and training in basic business acumen" (Hall, 2005, p. 24).

The premise of this article is that organizations require specially designed leadership development programs so that these professionals optimally contribute to the organization. S.T.E.M. organizations include scientific institutes, universities, and pharmaceutical and software development organizations. We offer recommendations for leadership program design elements to meet the unique needs of these groups. We begin by exploring what is already known about general leadership development program design, describe the needs of S.T.E.M. organizations and the characteristics of their new leaders, and conclude with five design elements essential to the success of a S.T.E.M. leadership development program.

Background

Regardless of organizational environment and despite stylistic differences and variations among curriculum, most authors agree on the core purposes and best practices for leadership development programs. Our review of organization development literature from the past decade shows that LDPs typically include: 1) formal classroom training, 2) real-world/real-time application, 3) reflection (an inward and outward focus on self, other, and beyond including the whole system), 4) 360 feedback tools with coaching, and 5) the participation and support of senior management as content expertise and mentoring.

Organizations that choose LDPs base their decisions on various organizational development considerations including leveraging favorable cultural effectiveness and transformation. They intend to create a more competitive advantage and foster greater adaptability and fortify performance capacity (Fulmer & Viceré, Fulmer, 1997; Fulmer, Gibbs & Goldsmith, 2000; Viceré & Taylor, 1994). Additionally, LDPs serve the aims of succession, building bench-strength (Tyrrell & Swain, 2000) and retention (Pernick, 2001). Organizations are investing in LDPs because they believe that homegrown leaders will fortify their organizational culture, and reinforce both their strategic agenda (Pernick) and strategic advantage (Fulmer, Gibbs & Goldsmith, 2000; Giber, Carter, & Goldsmith, 2000). …

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