Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

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

Academic journal article Organization Development Journal

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

Article excerpt


Leadership is an area of intense interest and need, particularly among scientific, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) organizations. STEM leaders face cultural challenges different from those of mainstream businesses and have developmental needs not adequately addressed in the organizational literature. This article summarizes the current design for a mainstream leadership development program, focuses on the unique needs of STEM organizations and their leaders, and recommends five design elements for a STEM leadership development program.


Leadership development is a foremost topic in the business literature and one of the most prolific and fastest-growing areas of interest in organization development (Piotrowski & Armstrong, 2005; Sharkey, 1999). Yet there remains an acute need to develop leaders. Survey results from over 500 senior learning professionals (that is, those within training and development and human resources) indicate that leadership and development are among the top training priorities among U.S. profit, nonprofit, and government organizations, with the need for experienced managers increasingly recognized as urgent (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 33% 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% had formal welldefined, well-structured systems for developing highpotential employees (Giber, Carter, & Goldsmith, 2000).

Professionals in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) who find themselves in positions of management have unique leadership development needs not fully addressed in organizational literature. Similarly, STEM environments are different than those of mainstream businesses and 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 STEM organizations require specially designed leadership development programs so that these professionals can optimally contribute to the organization. STEM organizations include scientific institutes, universities, and pharmaceutical and software development organizations. This article offers recommendations for leadership program design elements to meet the unique needs of these groups. The authors explore what is already known about general leadership development program design, describe the needs of STEM organizations and the characteristics of their new leaders, and conclude with five design elements essential to the success of a STEM leadership development program.


Regardless of the organizational environment and despite stylistic differences and variations among curricula, most authors agree on the core purposes and best practices for leadership development programs (LDPs). A review of organization development literature from the past decade shows that LDPs typically include (a) formal classroom training, (b) real-world and real-time application, (c) reflection (an inward and outward focus on self, others, and the whole system), (d) 360-feedback tools with coaching, and (e) the participation and support of senior management for content expertise and mentoring.

Organizations choose LDPs based on various organizational development considerations, including leveraging favorable cultural effectiveness and transformation. The major goals are to create a more competitive advantage, foster greater adaptability, and fortify performance capacity (Fulmer, 1997; Fulmer, Gibbs, & Goldsmith, 2000; Fulmer & Vicere, 1996; Vicere, Taylor, & Freeman, 1994). Additionally, LDPs serve the aims of succession, building bench strength (Tyrrell & Swain, 2000) and retention (Pernick, 2001). …

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