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Focusing on Organizational Change

Focusing on Organizational Change

This is a free online textbook offered by Saylor Foundation. ' Never before have strategic leaders been confronted with so much overwhelming change. The traditional approach is to teach the leader or leaders how to direct or control the organizations’ reaction on a monthly, weekly, or even daily basis. This approach is stressful and overwhelming for executive leaders, makes middle managers feel torn between honoring their senior leaders and listening to the demands of front line employees, and is alienating for front line employees.   Focusing on Organizational Change offers an alternative to the traditional approach by focusing on building the change capacity of the entire organization in anticipation of future pressures to change. Based on systematic research of more than 5,000... Show More
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Mac Jones
Mac Jones (Faculty)
2 years ago

My main interest in Focusing on Organizational Change is for use in an introductory course on leadership. This interest informs my review, and it is, admittedly, somewhat at odds with the stated aims of the text. In the introduction, the author writes that “[t]his book seeks to assist leaders in building their organizational capacity for change” and that it is “written for any executive who seeks to be more proactive toward change.” However, I find much to recommend this book not only as a primer for those already in a leadership position looking to effect and manage change, but as a solid addition to an undergraduate class on organizational leadership.  

A drawback to the text, for me, is that it does not see itself as the latter. Some minimal changes to wording and structure would, I feel, open up this text to a wider audience. If the lessons within the text are beneficial for those in a leadership position then they are important for those following the leaders and considering leadership roles as well.  

Given its stated audience, it can be excused for not including an introduction to theories of leadership and the broader challenges of leading change that are not the main focus of the book. However, this may be beneficial for even the reader already in a leadership position. Some authors and researchers familiar to those who teach leadership courses (Bennis, Covey, and others) do make their way into the discussion of organizational change, but a brief survey at the start would still be welcomed.  

That said, what the text does cover is vital, and, as I stated before, a welcome addition, especially in this open format, for any course dealing with organizational leadership. Familiar concepts and debates regarding leadership, such the paradoxes inherent in leading, the importance of effective followership, and the distinctions between management and leadership are all covered within the book. Taking as its main focus the need for “ambidextrous” leadership, it is a well-researched and compelling introduction and guide to the challenges of balancing short-term and long-term planning within an organization. The original research that informs the book, especially as regards the “organizational capacity for change,” makes Focusing on Organizational Change a unique offering. Every course needs a place from which to start, and I see this as a valuable touchstone concept around which to build a syllabus.  

In conclusion, although not written specifically with an undergraduate audience in mind, I would still recommend this, in whole or in part, as a primary text for an undergraduate course on leadership. If only considering a smaller section, as an addition to other texts in a course, I suggest Chapter 3 on “Trustworthy Leadership” and Chapter 4 on “Trusting Followers” as good studies on the leader-follower dynamic. Overall, the writing is clear, accessible, and engaging, enriched by a judicious use of anecdote, metaphor, and case studies.

Used in course? Yes
Time spent reviewing site: 10 hours