Leadership Studies Academic Program Design Tips

Newsflash:  I am a faux academic.  Yep, my initial foray into academia was adjunct teaching followed by an investigation into the feasibility of offering a doctoral degree at Johnson University (then Johnson Bible College).  In 2008, JU asked me to explore the possibility of offering a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies.  Part of this analysis included a desktop review of 97 universities who offered a PhD or DMin in Leadership Studies or related degrees.  An outcome of this process include my understanding of a Leadership Studies Academic Program Design Framework depicted in Figure 1 followed by a discussion of each element. 

Figure 1:  Academic Program Design Framework

Figure 1:  Academic Program Design Framework

Leadership studies theoretical framework – Clearly define what you mean by leadership studies.  Few colleges or universities published their definition of leadership studies on their website.  Some underlying biases and assumptions were revealed when examining the program description, organizational placement and the required curriculum.  However, leadership studies as a field of study would benefit from more intentional defining of the term.  Practically, your definition of leadership studies and associated biases and assumptions about the topic influences every facet of your program design including purpose, curriculum, goals, and objectives.  Through conscious and deliberate definition and understanding you lay the baseline from which decisions are made throughout the design and implementation of your program.  Key questions include:  How do we define leadership?  What dimensions of leadership are we most interested in such as leader as self; leader within organizations; leader in society; other factors?  What are our underlying philosophies of teaching and learning and how do those philosophies influence (if they do) our theoretical framework?

Statement of purpose – Create a unified vision and statement of purpose, one that is reflective of your leadership studies theoretical framework.   The key remains a concisely worded statement of purpose:  “The purpose of this program is to XXX.”  Key questions:  What is the purpose of this program?  What are the desired outcomes?  What will a graduate of this program look like upon completion?  

Five programmatic elements are derived directly from the Leadership Studies Theoretical Framework and Statement of Purpose:  organizational placement, target audience, delivery methods, degree requirements, and curriculum.  Key questions:  What is the rationale for design decisions within each element?  How does each design decision align with your Leadership Studies Theoretical Framework and your Statement of Purpose? What criteria will be used to evaluate each element?

Organizational placement – I have no data to support this but I suspect that organizational placement sometimes occurs because a person with the idea is matrixed to a particular School, College, or Division.  This may be okay considering academia’s tendency toward associating with persons of similar interests (said tongue in cheek).   Theoretically, the person or people with the initial idea and who develop the theoretical framework are most likely to develop a theoretical framework in keeping with their particular School, College, or Division.   Warning:  my thoughts that follow, admittedly, are “ideal” rather than how I see things usually working.  Ideally, though, a decision to add a new program is a strategic decision, one undertaken with deliberation toward key questions such as:  Where is a leadership studies program of this type best placed given our theoretical framework and our statement of purpose?  Where in the college or university as a whole can we best meet our goals for this program?  Do we need to create a new school, college, or division? 

Target audience – Defining your target audience is closely coupled with your Statement of Purpose.   Inherent in defining your purpose,  whether overtly or covertly, is a to who question.  Consider two differing purposes such as: (a)  prepare students to teach and do research, or (b)  develop or equip professionals or practitioners to lead.  Two different purposes, two different target audiences, each with potentially differing delivery methods, degree requirements, and curriculum.  Key questions:  What kind of students do you want to participate?  What do you envision students doing with the degree?  Do multiple purposes exist with differing target audiences?  Who do you imagine them being post-degree?  

Delivery method – Devise delivery methods best suited to your Statement of Purpose and target audience.  Consider multiple delivery options (e.g., classroom, online, hybrid) and/or creative scheduling if your target audience includes working adults.  Key questions:  What are the best delivery options given our Statement of Purpose and Target Audience?  What creative alternatives exist for face to face instruction and scheduling?  How much face to face interaction is desired in addition to classroom (e.g., mentoring, residencies, regional meetings, etc.)? 

Degree requirements  - Outline degree requirements best suited to Statement of Purpose and Target Audience.   Consider each element (required core and elective coursework, candidacy or qualification process, dissertation or project) in relation to your Leadership Studies Theoretical Framework and Statement of Purpose.  Key questions:  What is the relationship of course requirements to Leadership Studies Theoretical Framework and Statement of Purpose?  What is the role of and best approach given the role of candidacy or qualification?  What is the role of and best approach for the dissertation or project?  What other requirements are necessary to meet purpose?

Curriculum – Align your curriculum requirements within your Leadership Studies Conceptual Framework and your Statement of Purpose.  A broad concept of leadership studies emerged around the topics or themes of:  (a)  leadership and leadership studies; (b)  organizational studies, (c)  interpersonal behaviors:  team and group dynamics; (d)  communication; (e)  culture, global society, and policy; (f)  ethics, (g)  research, (h)  dissertation; and (i) other special topics.  Within each topic or theme, there was much variation.   Clearly, leadership studies isinterdisciplinary and broadly defined.  This illustrates the importance of your Leadership Studies Theoretical Framework, a clear definition of what you believe becomes the roadmap for developing your curriculum.   Key questions:  What must a student know given our Leadership Studies Theoretical Framework and our statement of purpose for us to meet our goals and objectives?

Be intentional and deliberate in defining your terms and translating that definition throughout all elements of your leadership studies program.  Your clarity and rigor in decision making to always go back to your Leadership Studies Theoretical Framework (what we’re about) and Statement of Purpose (Why we exist)when defining the Organizational Placement, Target Audience, Delivery Methods, Degree Requirements, and Curriculum (how you participate) translate into clarity, coherency and alignment within communication.

Communication – Craft communication that is carefully considered, aligned, clear, and coherent.   I recall one website where a definition of leadership studies was not provided, statement of purpose was “develop professional leaders”, target audience was business professionals, and the core classes were Introduction to Business and Economics.   I experienced a disconnect wondering how I was going to be developed as a leader studying business and economics.  By aligned, I mean all the elements fit together because they have been rigorously designed through intentional validation against the Leadership Studies Conceptual Framework and Statement of Purpose.  Clear simply refers to the overt manner in which you describe each element of your leadership studies program and clarity with which a reader can review your purpose, requirements, delivery methods, etc.  For websites, in particular, pay attention to the ease with which people can find information in a logical manner.  A subject for another day is college or university website design.  It was maddening at times trying to find information on websites!  Finally, coherency is a goal worth striving for.  By coherency, I refer to the human response to reviewing information about your leadership studies program and seeing how the pieces fit together, how they relate, and the ability to visualize themselves within that program.  Key questions:  What might potential students want to know about this program?  What are the messages and methods for communicating our leadership studies program that contributes to alignment, clarity, and coherency?

Continuous improvement – Set goals, objectives, and target measures.  Obtain and assess feedback.  Take action to continually improve your leadership studies programs.  Continuous improvement serves to:  (a)  focuses attention on key issues, (b)  clarify expectations, (c)  facilitate decision making, and (d)  emphasize learning and improving.  A successful continuous improvement framework provides appropriate consideration for improving practices, strategies, and decision making.  Measuring performance provides the means for assessing change and growth in each areas.   Define goals , objectives, and target measures for your leadership studies program so you have key information to:  prioritize and allocate resources; make needed adjustments or changes in policy or program directions to meet goals; to frame actions toward success in meeting performance goals; and to improve quality.  Key questions:  To meet our Statement of Purpose, what do we need to know generally?  What do we need to know programmatically (within each element)?  What do we need to know about our students?  About our alumni?  For each, what are potential goals, objectives, and desired outcomes?  How will we gather information and assess?