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Meet the Faculty: Leadership Professor Dr. Stephen Linenberger

College of Business Professor Believes Leadership Education Must Meet Students Where They're At in Their Profession


Dr. Stephen Linenberger is a Professor in the College of Business at Bellevue University. He teaches in the MBA program and focuses on leadership theory, the social psychology of leadership, organizational performance and leading change

I know you’re a Professor of Leadership in the College of Business. Why do you choose to teach leadership and why is it a passion of yours?

From a very early age, I was fascinated by leaders and social movements. All through my education, I was involved in clubs that affected school leadership and community leadership. I was a political junkie who believed the answer to all our problems rested on the quality of our leaders.

I studied Political Science and Education at Kansas State University but did not finish my degree. Fifteen years later I found myself enrolling at Bellevue University. I had accumulated some experience in human services and nonprofit organizations and decided to pursue my BA in the Human and Social Service Administration (HSSA) program. The HSSA professor had embedded some organizational behavior concepts along with nascent leadership theories and research in the curriculum, all of which resonated with me and piqued my interest. That same professor was the director of the first Master’s in Leadership (MLDR) program at Bellevue University and she encouraged me to enroll in the program. (It was also the first Master’s of Leadership program in the country).

When I read the course descriptions of the MLDR program, I was hooked. The courses combined my love of history, political science, psychology, and organizational studies. I joined the second cohort of the MLDR program in 1995 just as Leadership was beginning to emerge as a stand-alone field. My educational experience at Bellevue University led me to the field of leadership, fueled my passion for leadership education and research, and motivated me to teach leadership.

Sometimes people are described as “born leaders.” Does that mean leadership is an innate skill or can it be learned?

Yes, leadership can be an innate skill and, yes, it is a learned skill. Life experiences shape who we are. For some, these experiences create an innate desire to lead. For others, situational factors thrust them into a leadership role, where leadership skill develops over time through formal training or trial and error.

The world of work has changed significantly over the last 18 months due to the COVID-19 pandemic? How has the pandemic impacted the role of leaders?

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way many of us work and interact with our organizations. More and more employees are working permanently from home and studies consistently show that workers are more engaged, less stressed, and happier with this arrangement. Thus, departmental and organizational leaders have found themselves leading in a virtual world.

Many workers in service industries have also changed the psychological contract with their organizations by leaving jobs that are low-paying, stressful, and in some cases hazardous. A recent study done by a team at Stanford University found that the workplace is the fifth leading cause of illnesses related to stress. Today, leaders not only have to lead teams to accomplish functional objectives, but they also have to address issues like job insecurity, work-family balance, job control, job demands, social support, and organizational justice through people-centered leadership practices.

This new world is characterized by ever-changing contexts, including some of the lowest levels of institutional trust in our country’s history. This means employees are less likely to be inspired by a lofty vision statement and promises of success. They want more of a say in who leads them and in decisions that affect them. This calls for a more adaptive approach to leadership and non-anxious leaders who are a steady hand during times of change or crisis.


Dr. Stephen Linenberger, Professor
Today, leaders not only have to lead teams to accomplish functional objectives, but they also have to address issues like job insecurity, work-family balance, job control, job demands, social support, and organizational justice through people-centered leadership practices.
Dr. Stephen Linenberger, Professor

You head up a unique partnership program that Bellevue University has with the Yeshiva Initiatives Education Program in New York City. Can you tell me a little bit about that program and what distinguishes it?

The Yeshiva Initiatives Education Programs (YIEP) partnership began in 2004 when Rabbi Pesach Lerner visited Bellevue University to learn about our degree offerings. His goal was to find a quality, affordable, culturally sensitive, educational opportunities for Orthodox Jewish men and women that would help them secure better jobs and help them address pressing educational and social issues in their community.

We started by offering a Master’s in Educational Leadership (MAEL), then a few years later, offered undergraduate YIEP cohorts in Business, Behavioral Science and Human Services, and Cybersecurity. In turn, we added the MBA and Master’s of Clinical Counseling to the YIEP program portfolio.

Our partnership with YIEP stands out because of the cultural sensitivity and relevance of the program curricula, the program’s higher than average retention and graduation rates, and the longevity of the program. Thanks to YIEP and Bellevue University, hundreds of Orthodox Jewish students that had very few college options have earned degrees.

You’ve been an educator for over 20 years. How has graduate leadership education changed over that time? What about students? Have their learning needs or situations changed and if so, how?

Graduate leadership education has changed in several significant ways. We are seeing less focus on “leader” and more focus on “leadership” in courses and leadership training. Leadership theories and practices are changing to address creativity and problem-solving in knowledge-intensive workplaces. Leadership practices are becoming central to leadership education, requiring a connection between leadership and other sources of influence such as policy, procedures, systems, and rules. Leadership effectiveness has slowly been redefined to consider shared values, norms, and behaviors in organizations instead of simply looking at the financial bottom line.

Lastly, leadership education must meet the students where they are in their profession or areas of interest. Therefore, current leadership education begins with context and works from there rather than beginning with the assumption that leadership will provide the answers regardless of the situation.

You’ve conducted and presented leadership research at conferences around the world. What is the current focus of your leadership research and what is its real-world application?

Most of my current research focuses on leadership education in medical school. In this body of research, my physician colleague and I try to answer questions such as: Which leadership topics appear in the mandates for leadership education in medical school? What leadership topics are most important to medical students? What are the best ways to reach all medical students with our leadership curriculum across all four years of medical school? How do we assess the effectiveness of the leadership curriculum?

This research has led to a few journal publications, conference proceedings, and a SAGE publishing award for Most Publishable Leadership Education Paper at the 2017 International Leadership Association (ILA) conference.

What is the most gratifying part of your role at Bellevue University?

Teaching students from all walks of life; helping them find meaning and fulfillment in their education and careers.

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