Review by Ravi Rajagopalan. Ravi is a Chemical Engineer by training and has been working in the Chip Making industry where he currently holds a middle management position.
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This course is Part 1 of a six part ‘Organizational Leadership’ specialization offered by Northwestern University. I would recommend this course to anyone who is keen on learning about Organizational Leadership and applying it to his/ her workplace, school or in other contexts.
I want to give a bit of background about myself. I have been working in the chip making Industry after getting my graduate degree in Chemical Engineering. During this time, I have held middle management positions and have had the opportunity to both develop technology as well as work with customers in developing applications. I have worked extensively with customers in US, Europe and Asia and have had the opportunity to interact with and present to senior executives both within my organization as well as at customers.
The topic of leadership has always seemed a bit nebulous to me with the thought that some people have it and some people don’t – or put another way, leaders are born and not made. While I have seen leadership in action several times over my professional career as well as personal life, quantifying and consciously improving it has always been difficult for me. Teaching about these topics was a stated objective of the course when the specialization appeared on Coursera and I signed up to explore the option.
This first course is structured in to three parts: Leadership, Teamwork and Negotiation, each of which is covered in a week. In this review, I will focus on how the presentation is done by focusing on three things:
a) the structure of each module by specific examples without trying to be exhaustive
b) the structure of each lecture
c) my impression of Prof. Leigh Thompson
In the Leadership module, different types of leadership skills are described and I took an exercise to determine my strengths and weaknesses
In the Leadership module, different types of leadership skills are described and I took an exercise to determine my strengths and weaknesses. As an example, one of my strengths was interpersonal and one weakness was visual. As a part of the exercise, I identified why this weakness would impact me professionally and list a few things I could do to address it. This got me thinking about leadership skills in a much broader way than before. For example, musical skill is a leadership skill as well.
In another lecture on leadership, factors that impact decision making are discussed. Effects discussed are:
– Framing effect: How you frame a decision impacts the decision. Research indicates that people are, for most part, risk averse when it comes to gains – but are risk seeking when it comes to averting losses. So decisions can be frames as positive or an attempt to avoid loss depending on outcome desired.
– Confirmation bias: The tendency to seek out information that confirms what we believe. For example, though data to the contrary was widely available and talked about in 2008, for most part people believed the economy was doing well till Lehman Brothers collapsed and the financial crisis hit.
– Decision fatigue: Act of making decisions produces fatigue.
– Common information effect: Groups tend to discuss information that everyone else knows rather than discuss unique information that might be valuable.
The lecture then ends with concrete action steps to address these biases.
In the Team Performance section, the different types of teams are discussed: Tactical Teams, Problem Solving Teams and Creative Teams. The requirements for each team are delineated. For example, for tactical teams (e.g. Airline crew or a surgery team), having worked together for extensive times in the past is a key indicator of how successful the team is. In contrast, for creative teams, lots of independence and suspension of judgment is required. This framework of describing teams in terms of its purpose is very useful. Different types of trust is discussed as well. The exercise for this section is the creating of a team document that makes one think through different aspects required for a successful team.
STRUCTURE OF LECTURES
In each lecture, Prof. Thompson picks one particular sub topic (e.g. Decision Making as described above). She starts by describing what it means, describes different aspects of the topics, describes pitfalls or things to watch out for and then ends each lecture with a set of 4-5 actions one can take to become better at that topic. The assignments are very well structured with a clear rubric on what is expected. The assignments are evaluated by peer grading. I learned a lot by reviewing assignments of fellow students as several of them clearly have management experience in different industries.
I came to increasingly appreciate the depth of Prof. Leigh Thompson’s knowledge as well as her ability to lend detail to these topics, base her lecturers on research and give actions
In the three weeks I was in the course, I came to increasingly appreciate the depth of Prof. Leigh Thompson’s knowledge as well as her ability to lend detail to these topics, base her lecturers on research and give actions. Lots of studying and experience is required to distill each topic in to lectures that range between 5-10 minutes. I consider these lectures more as a handbook that one will refer to through the course of one’s career as opposed to a three week stint of going through a course. Ann Langan, one of the teaching staff, was very responsive to questions and the discussion boards were very interesting.
Research has shown that individuals are more creative than teams
In summary, this was a very well organized and thought out course on a topic that is a bit nebulous. I learned a few key concepts and plan to continue the learning through other modules of this specialization. As a last thought, I will leave you with one key takeaway that surprised me – research has shown that individuals are more creative than teams and Prof. Thompson does give actions to improve creativity of teams.
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