The Beauty of Teaching in Penn’s MSOD Program

The beauty of teaching Organizational Dynamics is that students ask powerful, challenging questions. On the last day of class a student asked privately: “I am tired of waiting for my organization’s leaders to lead; how I can lead from the middle?”

As a consultant I had led plenty of organizational changes without formal authority. BUT, a powerful client had hired me and was vested in my success and few employees enjoy that advantage. So, I answered: “Proceed slowly and carefully when you lead change without formal authority from those in charge.” Later another student wrote: “I took Process Improvement because I thought it was what my organization needed. I now understand our problem is lack of leadership and I must become the leader I have been looking for.”

These two students inspired me to research the literature on leadership, legitimacy and organizational citizenship behavior without finding answers. So, I proposed a new course on “Leading from the Middle.” Members of three classes have since learned to develop pragmatic, ethical and cognitive processes for legitimizing risky changes without authority.

Please keep asking such beautiful, challenging questions.

– Martin Stankard