The Master of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) prepares graduates to become intelligent, ethical, supportive leaders in a variety of roles, organizations and industries. Program director Tom Sechrest explains how this St. Edward’s University graduate program prepares leaders to thrive and make positive organizational impact. 

Tom Sechrest, Director of Online Master of Science in Organizational Leadership

What does a student learn in a master’s program in leadership at St. Edward’s?

Our program delivers a mission-driven, broad and comprehensive leadership education focused on a leadership model that includes several key concepts. Leaders are clear thinkers who understand the context of their work and the world around them. Leaders lead themselves, need to be learning continually and also taking care of themselves. They lead others which may be the part most people think about, and leaders are authentic with each having their own style.

Leadership doesn’t just come from people with leadership roles or titles. Good leaders understand that the people at lower levels of the organization, closest to the work, have valuable perspectives that should be considered. Our classes include lectures as well as highly interactive discussions where students connect what they’re learning with what’s happening in their workplace.

Why is good leadership important beyond the White House and Wall Street? 

Research has shown us that people’s engagement with their work is way down in recent years. People are looking for meaning in their work. If they don’t find meaning in what they’re doing, they won’t stay at their jobs or be effective. Part of the role of a leader is to help colleagues find that meaning in their work and see how they are contributing to an organization’s mission and vision. Leaders with a clear vision for the organization can communicate to employees how work is in service to a larger mission.

How does the St. Edward’s University mission influence the MSOL curriculum? 

Part of our Holy Cross mission is developing critical and creative thinking, so the MSOL program includes a critical thinking course and a creativity and innovation course. Our mission states that we encourage individuals to confront the critical issues of society and to seek justice and peace. This is reflected in the courses in Leadership and Social Justice, and Advocacy and Inclusivity in Organizations. 

St. Edward’s also has a strong emphasis on educating the whole person – the mind and the heart – and the leaders we develop have a “whole person” approach to leadership, as well. A whole-person approach means that, if you’re a supervisor, you understand that your employees have lives outside of work, and they can’t truly leave family or health issues “at the door.” Rather than requiring that kind of rigid separation between an employee’s work life and their personal or cultural identity, a leader should create an environment where people feel supported enough as individuals to accomplish the professional tasks on their plate.

Why do graduates of the Master of Science in Organizational Leadership find it so valuable?

They are trained in leadership and develop specific skills that they cannot gain by reading a few books about leadership or attending a weeklong training. The title of the degree demonstrates to other people that you have been studying this specific and vital aspect of organizations. They learn about critical and creative thinking; individual strengths and weaknesses; the building blocks of leadership; communication; data analytics; and ethics. Program graduates have a leadership skill set that others don't have.

Student working on laptop at library

There is a constant interplay between what people are learning in class and what they’re doing at work. For two decades, I’ve heard students say, “What I learned in class last time, I was able to use at work the next day.”

What kind of student is a good fit for the MSOL program?

Some students are working to move into their first managerial or leadership role. Others are already in leadership and are looking to move to the next level. We also have people who want to bring leadership skills to their roles, even if they are not supervisors. 

Some of our students have initiated or been tasked with leading an organizational change, such as creating a sustainability program, implementing a diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, or restructuring. We also have students who are reskilling to make a career transition; this includes veterans who are learning a civilian approach to leadership. Our graduates are leaders in local, state and federal government; the private sector; nonprofits and consultancies.

Students choose St. Edward’s because they want small classes where they’ll get to know their professors and colleagues. They’re seeking a practice-based education, and they’re looking for a university that is mission-driven.

What is practice-based education and how does it relate to the St. Edward’s University location in Austin?

It’s important to understand the theory and the models of leadership, but it’s also important to practice applying that theory in the real world. There is a constant interplay between what people are learning in class and what they’re doing at work. For two decades, I’ve heard students say, “What I learned in class last night, I was able to use at work the next day.” And it goes the other way, too; we encourage students to bring in examples from their workplaces of the issues discussed in class. These might be examples of how gender influences leadership, or an ethical challenge that arose at work.

The strategic leadership course that students take last is where they apply all the concepts and skills they’ve learned throughout the program. In consultation with Austin leaders, they choose a “wicked problem” – a complex one that they definitely won’t solve during a seven-week course – such as homelessness, or food insecurity, or mental health support. Then they work in groups to read the literature on this problem, explore the local data, interview local experts, and make recommendations for how the issue hypothetically could be handled in the future. We have students take on a problem like this, instead of a problem they need to solve at work, because it challenges their creative thinking.

What do leaders need to understand about data analytics?

Regardless of their field, leaders need to develop a data perspective and a measurement mindset. They need to understand what types of information their organization generates and how to make sense of it. They don’t need to generate the data or run the queries themselves, but they need to understand what data is important to capture, and how to interrogate the data to make effective leadership decisions. It's about asking the right questions to inform decision making.

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