Leadership in (Work-Based) Action
In the 1940s, management scholar Reg Revans had a new idea. He wanted people working in organizations at all levels to learn from each other.
Fast-forward to today and you'll find people from all industries practicing what Revans called Action Learning: sharing and comparing problems, ideas, and solutions.
In the SAU Master of Organizational Leadership (MOL) program, Revans' Action Learning methodology takes the form of the Work-Based Action Project (WBAP), a 16-week hands-on course. In that course, MOL students identify a problem they can solve at their workplace or volunteer organization.
"WBAP incorporates and applies lessons learned from the entire MOL curriculum with heavy emphasis on leading change, conflict management, operating in a team, dialogical skills, strategy and communication," said Randy Richards '71, PhD, a founding MOL faculty member who was introduced to the concept as a visiting professor at the Zagreb School of Economics and Management in Croatia and brought it back to St. Ambrose.
This experiential learning model is actually a hallmark of many SAU graduate and undergraduate programs. By pairing theory with action, students can fully understand-and solve-work-based problems.
"The WBAP is tremendously important to the MOL program," said Program Director and Professor Ron Wastyn, PhD. "Rather than just reading about what other people have done, our students practice what they learned in a guided, work-based scenario."
At the start, students are required to gain buy-in from whomever their projects affect. And while WBAP instructors don't actively seek comments or feedback from those businesses and organizations, Richards said a decade of positive WBAP results are proof that the MOL program affects real change.
There is a fundamental guiding rule that I gained in the MOL: Make it work. If ‘A' doesn't work, then you still have an entire alphabet left of possible solutions.
"Our students have made uncounted, successful interventions in their work organizations and saved money, improved work processes, opened opportunities, improved operations, and altered cultures," he said.
Students routinely have shared their appreciation for the WBAP learning process in reflection papers about their projects and experience.
"In looking back over the past 16 weeks of the Work-Based Action Project, I found myself using many ideas and tools from previous MOL classes," said Joe Garrity '17 MOL. "It was amazing to be able to implement these ideas into action and see how they provided real results in my project."
Sara Jones '07, '16 MOL, '18 MBA, said the WBAP gave her a profound appreciation for the project management process-enough so that she wants to do more in the future. "The combination of what I learned in this class and my boss making me take on a project of this size makes me want to do more projects like it," she wrote.
Reaching difficult points during the project-or even failing-is also part of the WBAP learning experience.
"There is a fundamental guiding rule that I gained in the MOL: Make it work," said Arta Fazliu '16 MOL. "If ‘A' doesn't work, then you still have an entire alphabet left of possible solutions. There is never one way to look at, approach, or attempt a problem. That versatility can only be learned when you are taught to question and think on your own."