Two Life & Leadership Lessons from a Leader in the Field

Marie Di Virgilio Culture

The author with Dr. Schein (right).

The author with Dr. Schein (right).

A few months ago, the Ph.D. in Organization Development program, a fellow Benedictine University doctoral program, hosted an event with Dr. Edgar Schein. Dr. Schein was an all-day guest lecturer at Benedictine’s 50‑year celebration of graduate education in Organization Development (OD).

“At 86, he is winsome, sharp-minded, and quick-witted as he spent the day unfolding how his writings grew from his life experience and highlighting where these experiences are relevant today,” said Donna Darr, Senior Faculty at Keller Graduate School of Management of DeVry University and a Benedictine University Doctoral Student.

Dr. Schein, professor emeritus at the MIT Sloan School of Management, has made an indelible mark on the field of organizational development, particularly in the areas of career development, group process consultation, and organizational culture. We asked students from our doctoral program in Values-Driven Leadership to share an insight or learning from Dr. Schein’s presentation. They identified two particular life – and leadership – lessons drawn from Schein’s body of work as presented on campus:

Develop the Art of Asking Questions

It was inspiring to hear Dr. Schein share his journey and the evolution of his body of work. Dr. Schein’s humble presence and teaching style drew me into the concepts he shared. It is no wonder the title of his new work is Humble Inquiry: The Gentle Art of Asking and Telling; it is an authentic depiction of Schein’s leadership style. Leaders who are humbly inquisitive are able to inspire their constituents more through genuine curiosity.

Dr. Schein shared, “To be helpful, you first must start with asking questions.” This has served me well in my leadership journey. By asking questions, it helps to understand others point of views in order to meet people where they are. Without this connection, it is difficult for individuals to join a leader in their journey if their concerns, frustrations, or even ideas are not cared for along the way. Questions help us to better understand how our constituents are feeling and identify connection points.

Kimberly Sebastian
Director Multi-Channel Performance Support and Process Improvement, U.S. Cellular
Benedictine University Doctoral Student


Understand Yourself as a Product of Your Experiences

[Schein] spoke of the events of his life and how each led to the creation of each of his works like pieces of a puzzle being put together. It confirmed for me that we all are a product of our experiences.

He spoke mostly of his interactions with clients and not his laboratory experiences, which led to some of his best work in process consultation, career anchors, and organization culture. I sat there agreeing as they echoed my own best life lesson that my best Positive Change, Organization Development, and coaching work and progress in them comes from my working with my clients.

[Schein] mentioned how he writes books when he gets mad that people aren’t understanding something important. That is a lesson learned that I have tucked away for my future.

Beyond anything, at age 86 he demonstrates that age is not a factor for him. He put us through an exercise he has attempted only twice with a group and talked about new theories and the possibility of a new book. He continues to be passionate, vital, a teacher at heart, and active about his work because it is his purpose, his motivation and he revels in that. His character as a man and his passion for his work after all these years is what impacted me the most. I plan to follow in his footsteps and after obtaining my Ph.D. have a life purpose that is values-driven and which impacts people and blesses mankind until I am long in age too. He strengthened that resolve.

Sherri Black
Senior Manager, Visteon Corporation
Benedictine University Doctoral Student


Benedictine University’s doctoral programs have a proud heritage of teaching side-by-side with distinguished visiting scholars, such as Dr. Schein, as well executives from leading companies. Our goal is to expose students to the latest theories and bold ideas with marketplace impact.

Learn more about Benedictine’s  Ph.D. OD program or explore  our Ph.D./D.B.A. program Values-Driven Leadership.


Dr. Marie E. Di Virgilio is the Administrative Director for the Center for Values-Driven Leadership. She brings over 30 years of business experience, much of it with Allstate Insurance Company, holding key leadership positions in sales, human resources, accounting, corporate education, and information technology. As a Center core faculty member, Dr. Di Virgilio anchors courses in leading change and developing organization, and leadership and corporate social responsibility.

Image Credit: Sherri Black


Looking to grow your own leadership capacity while leading your company? Learn more our M.S. in values-driven leadership – designed for executives.

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