Academic journal article Competition Forum

In Pursuit of a Common Understanding of Leadership: A Case Study of Business School Faculty and Practitioner Stakeholders

Academic journal article Competition Forum

In Pursuit of a Common Understanding of Leadership: A Case Study of Business School Faculty and Practitioner Stakeholders

Article excerpt


Business schools are increasingly being challenged to prepare their students to be leaders - leaders who can effectively meet the demands of the dynamic and global business world. It is therefore tempting for business schools to try to develop a common understanding among their faculty and key business practitioner stakeholders as to the meaning of leadership. A common understanding of leadership, after all, provides a useful foundation upon which leadership development can be carried out. This paper describes one business school's experience in trying to achieve a common understanding of leadership among its faculty and key practitioner stakeholders. Themes reflecting commonalities and disparities are identified.

Keywords: Leadership, Business Schools, Faculty Development, Leadership Development


Leadership is a crucial component of organizational success and competitiveness, and this link is well documented (c.f., Tubbs and Schulz, 2006). Business strategists contend that a turbulent business environment demands continuous improvement in operations and offerings; the creation of responsive, innovative networks; and the training and empowering of employees to serve a single, coherent vision (Nirenberg, 2003). These business challenges require leadership. As the introduction to special issue on leadership education in the Journal for Education for Business noted, efforts to gain market share and continuously improve require "change agents - individuals who know how to reorganize existing resources through innovative strategies, make rapid but well-thought-out decisions, and create collaborative work teams to enhance employee productivity" (Morrison, 2003, p4).

Despite the importance of leadership for organizational success, business schools have long been criticized for failing to prepare leaders who can guide organizations in an era of globalization, tumultuous competition, and corporate transformation (Barnett, 1990; Gosling and Mintzberg, 2004). Indeed, a survey of human resource personnel found that "82% of organizations had difficulty finding qualified leaders" (c.f., Nirenberg, 2003, p7). This failure of leadership preparation may result from the simple fact that there is not a consensus on what leadership entails or how business education can develop leaders. Nirenberg (2003) attributes the failure of leadership education to problems such as 1) leadership courses are not widespread, especially at the undergraduate level, and tend to be offered only as electives, and 2) when leadership study is available, it tends to focus on abstract, fragmented theories rather than on the behavioral practice of leadership.

One school of thought questions whether people can learn to be leaders from either traditional coursework or leadership development programs (Economist, 2003). From this perspective, leadership is either innate or learned through on-the-job observation and experience. Others argue that leadership can be learned; what is needed is a transformation in business education (Doh, 2003; Gosling and Mintzberg, 2004; Morrison, 2003; Parks, 2005). The first step in transforming an educational program is to adequately define or conceptualize leadership before designing a development program (Hays and Hodgkinson, 2006, Nirenberg, 2003).

This paper examines one educational institution's journey in doing just that - examining the concept of leadership and using that knowledge to transform its academic programs. The School of Business at the University of Southern Maine has adopted leadership preparation as a core part of its mission. This paper focuses on leadership preparation in our undergraduate program. If the School is successful, it will enhance its own competitiveness by creating a differential advantage over its competition, and it will contribute to the competitiveness of the organizations that hire its graduates.


The University of Southern Maine (USM) is an urban-comprehensive university located in the population and business-hub of the state. …

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