What does it mean to lead with a cross-sector lens? And how can this make a difference for leaders across industries? This is precisely what Dr. Lisette Nieves recently discussed during a session at SXSW EDU. Dr. Nieves is the clinical professor and program director of the Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program at NYU Steinhardt and founder of the new NYU Steinhardt EdD in Leadership and Innovation.

SXSW EDU is the annual gathering in Austin, TX of thousands of professionals from government, nonprofits, business, higher education, and K-12 spaces who work to advance educational innovation and impact. Over four days, attendees choose from more than 400 sessions to hear from industry leaders challenging and changing the future of education – from early childhood to adult learning.

The audience of ed tech executives, business leaders, civil servants, district administrators, charter network leaders, and nonprofit professionals was a natural environment for Dr. Nieves who herself has a cross-sector background. She is an experienced social entrepreneur, public sector leader, and scholar. Dr. Nieves founded Lingo Ventures, which focuses on strengthening organizations through talent development; held positions in municipal and federal government, most recently as an Obama appointee in the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics; and served as the founding executive director for a national nonprofit focused on equity in workforce development. With these experiences and others, she was uniquely suited to challenge this audience to break down their own silos.

With NYU Steinhardt’s new EdD in Leadership and Innovation as the backdrop for the discussion, Dr. Nieves posed the question: “How do we ensure people in the public and private sector are able to effect change while pursuing doctoral degrees?” She explained how this was the exact question that colleague Dr. Noel Anderson and she sought to answer when developing this doctorate. “We realized that we can offer an opportunity that allows people to hold on to their passion while they get an education. We want to flip this idea on the head that you have to leave your job to pursue additional impact by getting a doctorate.”

This means that leaders from various sectors bring real-life problems of practice to the program, leverage the knowledge and experiences of their classmates, and build a foundation of academic learning to examine their greatest organizational challenges. Dr. Anderson and Dr. Nieves know that leaders make and sustain transformational change in education by grounding their decision-making in experience, research, and data – all facilitated within a supportive, cohort-style environment that pulls in a range of valuable and diverse perspectives. These ideas became the foundation for the EdD in Leadership and Innovation.

Dr. Nieves encouraged the audience to think of challenges not as industry-specific, but rather in terms of organizational subcontext – is your challenge an issue of cultures merging or changing leadership? Is it related to the inclusion of new systems? Or is it related to pipelining talent into emerging roles? There is likely existing research and literature that cuts across sectors that leaders can use to help answer these questions. “For example, take the interdisciplinary field of organizational theory, which has a whole body of research in education,” explained Dr. Nieves. “There’s also a lot of information on this topic for business management and in public policy.” Leaders, whether in education, banking, or philanthropy can root their strategies in these teachings if they have the space and framework to do so.

Dr. Nieves went on to explain that professionals who seek impact thrive on shared learning experiences and are eager to have their viewpoints challenged. Consider a banking vice president in corporate learning who works to improve their firm’s human capital strategy and the school district leader who aims to improve hiring, onboarding, and retention of teachers. These professionals have more in common than their sectors may indicate. By cutting through the surface differences and even the language and jargon that separate them, these two professionals have myriad ways to learn together and from one another. “We look at problems of practice as a group,” said Dr. Nieves. “There’s a lot to learn in a trusted cohort model like the one we’ve built in this EdD program.”

Cross-sectoral leadership and learning deeply resonated with the SXSW EDU audience of changemakers. “Persistent challenges in our education system require us to look beyond our silo for solutions,” Dr. Nieves concluded to a nodding crowd. “When we do so we activate new networks of educational leaders eager and prepared to create innovative, cross-sector solutions to our most pressing issues.”

Learn more about what opportunities await you in the NYU Steinhardt EdD in Leadership and Innovation.

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