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Work in Progress: Exploring Leadership Orientations in the Classroom

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2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Minneapolis, MN

Publication Date

August 23, 2022

Start Date

June 26, 2022

End Date

June 29, 2022

Conference Session

Bringing Engineering Leadership Pedagogy to Life!

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Paper Authors


Emily Moore University of Toronto

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Dr. Emily Moore is the Director of the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering at the University of Toronto. Before becoming a professor in 2018, Emily spent more than twenty years as a professional engineer in industry, first with the Xerox Research Centre of Canada and then with Hatch Ltd. Emily's teaching and research interests include engineering leadership, systems thinking, and equity in engineering education and practice.

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Cindy Rottmann University of Toronto

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Cindy Rottmann is the Associate Director, Research at the Troost Institute for Leadership Education in Engineering at the University of Toronto. She conducts research on engineering leadership, engineers' professional practice, and ethics and equity in engineering. She is currently the Program Chair of the ASEE LEAD division.

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Patricia Sheridan University of Toronto


Samina Hashmi University of Toronto

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Context In 2015, an engineering leadership research team at the University of Toronto set out to examine how engineers lead through professional practice. The research team mobilized their grounded theory findings by integrating a sub-set of survey questions into an undergraduate engineering leadership course through the Engineering Leadership Orientations (ELO) inventory. While this inventory has helped students identify their own orientation to leadership, the ELO inventory depends on archetypal embodiments of leadership. How can educators make these archetypes feel more immediate to students or young professionals? More importantly, how can decontextualized archetypes help students develop as leaders? Our work in progress (WIP) paper answers this question by examining a recent pedagogical innovation merging the three orientations with the concepts of Leadership and Followership as articulated by Hurwitz and Hurwitz.

Bridging Research and Practice Our classroom initiative draws on two theories—Rottmann et al.’s grounded theory of engineering leadership, and Hurwitz and Hurwitz’s theory of followership. From the first theory, we help students connect leadership theory with the engineering profession by introducing them to the three emergent leadership orientations—technical mastery, collaborative optimization, and organizational innovation. From the second theory, we draw on the guiding principle that leadership is setting the frame and followership is creating within it. Our classroom activity uses this joint conceptual framework to help students identify and explore their own leadership orientations in the context of both leadership and followership. Students come to class having completed an asynchronous module that introduces both frameworks. In class, students participate in experiential exercises and assess their own leadership orientations. Students then break into small groups by leadership orientation and are asked to describe what they see as the leadership behaviours for their orientation, and what they would look for in their followers. The groups then debrief in a whole class sharing activity.

Instructor Reflections As instructors who have run this activity in six classrooms (both virtually and in person) we have observed students reporting changes in how they view their own leadership identities. For example, by exploring the leader/follower perspectives for each orientation, students develop increased understanding of how they might use their strengths in the workplace depending on both their own and their supervisor’s orientations. We have also received feedback from the students that this way of approaching leadership, within the engineering context, has been refreshingly supportive to their understanding of self and formation of a shared engineering leadership identity. We are curious to explore what this could mean for supporting leadership development of undergraduate engineering students. We are in the process of completing institutional ethics review to conduct a larger program evaluation of our undergraduate course in engineering leadership, but for the purpose of this WIP paper, we intend to share our lesson plan and anecdotal observations from eight cohorts of students registered for an elective undergraduate leadership class between September 2020 and April 2022.

Implications for Engineering Leadership Educators Our curricular integration of these two complementary leadership theories supports the development of a dynamic and accessible framework that will help engineering leadership educators and program evaluators committed to fostering and assessing leadership development of undergraduate engineering students.

Moore, E., & Rottmann, C., & Sheridan, P., & Hashmi, S. (2022, August), Work in Progress: Exploring Leadership Orientations in the Classroom Paper presented at 2022 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Minneapolis, MN.

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