MSLOC Instructors Aaron Olson, B. K. Simerson Co-Author Book on Strategic Leadership

MSLOC Instructors Aaron Olson, B. K. Simerson Co-Author Book on Strategic Leadership

Leading with Strategic Thinking

What makes a leader strategic? A new book by two instructors in the SESP Master of Science in Learning and Organizational Change Program (MSLOC) examines what leaders who think strategically do differently. Aaron Olson (MS98) and B. K. Simerson say their book Leading with Strategic Thinking is based on their teaching at Northwestern, 35 years of consulting experience with executives, and a study of more than 300 leaders from around the world.

Olson is chief talent officer at Aon, a global firm with more than 66,000 colleagues specializing in risk management and human resources. He is responsible for enterprise-wide talent management and organizational development, helping leaders and teams link business and talent strategy. Olson, who received his master’s degree from SESP in 1998, has taught for the MSLOC program since 2006.

Simerson is a consultant to private- and public-sector organizations. He helps organizations develop strategic plans and provides consultation, executive coaching and leadership development in the areas of strategy formulation and execution. Simerson, who holds a doctoral degree in education from the University of North Carolina, has authored several books, including Strategic Planning: A Practical Guide to Strategy Formulation and Execution.

Aaron Olson

Together, Olson and Simerson teach a class for the MSLOC program called Leading with Strategic Thinking. "After teaching the class in MSLOC for several years, we were approached by a publisher who had heard about some of the ideas that we address in our class. They thought there would be interest in a book addressing the relationship between strategy and leadership, particularly given our focus on talent development given the course's roots in the School of Education and Social Policy," they say.

"Being strategic is about doing three things well — seeing patterns, making choices and managing risk. In our class we integrate concepts from cognitive psychology, systems thinking and game theory to help students do those three things more effectively. We also discuss how strategic thinking applies to leadership — the best leaders are strategic about how they lead, adapting their style to achieve their overall goals."

“Strategic thinking informs leadership,” they emphasize, noting that tools from the field of strategic management enhance strategic thinking and help leaders to succeed. In their book they look at 12 strategic leaders, individuals and companies with various personal styles and in different contexts. 

B. K. Simerson

Leaders featured in Leading with Strategic Thinking include Liz Gerber, a Northwestern professor and founder of Design for America. Gerber is a professor of mechanical engineering at McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and of learning sciences at the School of Education and Social Policy. Gerber developed Design for America, an award-winning nationwide organization for students and their mentors to develop innovative design solutions with social impact. 

Leading with Strategic Thinking is being published by Wiley & Sons. The book’s release date is April 13.

Photos: SESP instructors Aaron Olson (MS98, top photo) and B. K. Simerson co-authored the book Leading with Strategic Thinking, inspired by the MSLOC course they teach at Northwestern.

By Marilyn Sherman
Last Modified: 11/12/15