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Faculty & Research

Monica C. Higgins

Kathleen McCartney Professor of Education Leadership

Monica C. Higgins

Degree:  M.B.A., Amos Tuck School of Business Administration; M.A., Psychology, Harvard University; A.B., Dartmouth College; Ph.D., Harvard University, (1995)
Email:  [javascript protected email address]
Phone:  617.496.8826
Personal Site:   Link to Site
Vitae/CV:   Monica C. Higgins.pdf
Office:  Gutman 425
Faculty Coordinator:  Natalie J Solomon


Monica Higgins joined the Harvard faculty in 1995 and is the Kathleen McCartney Professor of Education Leadership at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) where her research and teaching focus on the areas of leadership development and organizational change. Prior to joining HGSE, she spent eleven years as a member of the faculty at Harvard Business School in the Organizational Behavior Unit. Her book, Career Imprints: Creating Leaders Across an Industry, (2005) focuses on the leadership development of executives in the biotechnology industry. In education, she studies the effectiveness of senior leadership teams in large urban school districts across the United States and the conditions that enhance organizational learning in public school systems. As a long-time member of the Public Education Leadership Project, a joint initiative between HBS and HGSE, Higgins co-authored a book with her colleagues on managing central office-school relationships called, Achieving Coherence in District Improvement; this book is based upon their work with large urban districts over a ten-year time period.

Higgins also works with entrepreneurial education organizations to help them navigate the constraints and opportunities they face in the education reform movement. Central to this work is HGSE’s Scaling for Impact initiative, which she leads. Here, along with colleagues from HGSE, HBS, and HKS, she is engaged in research and teaching that focus on helping entrepreneurial teams both within and outside of traditional district structures scale their work for even greater social impact. Her latest research in this area focuses on sources of funding and strategic opportunities for nonprofit education organizations.

She served as an appointee for Education Secretary Arne Duncan of the Obama Administration from 2009-2016 and currently sits on several boards in the nonprofit education field. At Harvard, Higgins teaches in the areas of leadership and organizational change, entrepreneurship, teams, and strategic human resources management. She has also taught in leadership programs for The Broad Foundation and for New Leaders for New Schools. Additionally, she teaches in and is on the faculty board of the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative.

Before academia, Higgins held marketing and organizational consulting positions at American Express Travel Related Services, BankBoston, Bain & Company, and Harbridge House. Higgins earned her A.B. in policy studies with a focus in organizational behavior from Dartmouth College, her M.B.A. from the Amos Tuck School of Business Administration, her M.A. in psychology from Harvard University, and her Ph.D. in organizational behavior jointly from the Harvard Business School and the Harvard University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Click here to see a full list of Monica Higgins' courses.

Areas of Expertise

Organizational Learning in New York City Public Schools
This research responds to a call from practitioners to better understand how to create work environments that hold teachers accountable without undermining their ability and motivation to innovate on the job. Stacey Childress (senior lecturer, HBS) and Professor Higgins have launched this project following some recurring patterns of interest they found among executives in education programs both inside and outside of Harvard. Education leaders in these programs reported feeling as though they were working in environments that demanded high levels of accountability yet offered low levels of psychological safety, and they were yearning for opportunities to lead and manage change efforts in environments that were high on both dimensions. Although organizational scholars such as Edmondson have suggested that balancing organizational learning and accountability yields high performance in organizations, no research has directly examined this proposition. With this in mind and with particular interest from the Chief of Accountability in NYCDOE, Stacey and Monica set out to design a survey to study teacher responses along both of these dimensions in NYC Public Schools.The measures they developed for this project were based upon prior research on organizational learning and accountability. First, drawing from Professor Higgins' work with CPS, they incorporated organizational learning measures used in the CPS Principal Leadership Project on psychological safety and experimentation. Second, with doctoral students, Ann Ishimaru and Rebecca Holcombe, Higgins and Childress built upon the conceptual work of education scholars (e.g., Elmore and O’Day) to develop survey questions on accountability. From their pilot testing, two core dimensions of accountability emerged – one that they currently associate with “professional accountability” (e.g., feeling responsible for doing high‐quality work) and one that they currently associate with “performance‐based accountability” (e.g., feeling accountable for reaching certain targets). After months of pilot‐testing and negotiating with the NYCDOE, they received permission to add survey questions to their on‐line annual teacher learning survey. This survey was launched in February of 2009 to approximately 55,000 teachers; 33,000 teachers responded. They were given access to these data and to all other data on their survey this fall, 2009. They are currently analyzing these data and expect to produce a draft of a first paper from these data for circulation in 2010.Their primary objective in this first phase of the project is to introduce the idea of creating organizational conditions in which teachers feel highly accountable in their work while, at the same time, free to innovate and improve upon their teaching practice. To do so, they will first validate measures of accountability and organizational learning used in the survey, building from the CPS project. Second, they will show if and whether there is variance across and within these two dimensions in this large urban school district. Their hope is that they will indeed find schools that fall into the “high organizational learning/high accountability” quadrant and that they will be able to examine these schools’ performance, practices, and organizational change initiatives in follow‐up qualitative research. Given the scope of the data they have collected and have access to, they anticipate publishing several papers from this research project that address the twin roles of organizational learning and accountability in urban school reform.

Senior Leadership District Teams in Connecticut
This project focuses on the role of senior leadership teams in implementing instructional improvement strategies district‐wide. The project originated in 2007 as part of the Harvard Leadership Institute for the Connecticut Superintendent’s Network, led by Richard Elmore and Lee Teitel. Subsequent to teaching in this Institute, doctoral students Lissa Young and Jennie Weiner and Professor Higgins collected data on 26 district teams. Superintendents and their teams took Richard Hackman’s Team Diagnostic Survey (TDS) instrument, which provides information on the quality of a team’s process, strategy, and structure, and on individuals’ engagement level with the team’s work, in 2008 and 2009. Higgins, Young and Weiner are now analyzing these data and writing articles for publication.The first paper from this project is called Leading Teams of Leaders: What Helps Team Member Learning? It co-authored by Lissa Young, Jennie Weiner, and Steven Wlodarczyk (from the Connecticut Center for School Change). In this paper, Higgins, Young, Weiner and Wlodarczyk focus on the extent to which coaching by superintendents and team members helps or hinders team member learning. Team member learning is one key indicator of team effectiveness. When individuals are learning, they are engaged in the work and so, much more likely to sustain and continue reform efforts. Multi‐level analyses of these data show that coaching that focuses on the team’s task fosters team member learning, whereas interpersonal coaching (e.g., that focuses on resolving interpersonal conflict) does not. Further, leader coaching (that of the superintendent) is less influential when compared to the powerful effects of peer coaching. Leader coaching contributes positively, but only when there is little peer coaching evident among team members. These results lend insight into both who should provide help to teams that are striving to implement an instructional improvement strategy and what help they should provide. This paper is currently in press at Phi Delta Kappan.Higgins and her research team are also working on a second paper called Implementation Teams in Education, for submission to a special issue on teams in Journal of Organizational Behavior in January of 2010. In this paper, they will focus on the composition of these senior leadership teams. Professor Higgins has presented their findings for this paper at the Kennedy School of Government’s Center for Public Leadership Roundtable Series, in the Harvard Psychology Department’s Groups’ Group Seminar Series, and at the University of Southern California. Their findings show the conditions under which greater team diversity in terms of the positions held (e.g., principals and central office staff) reduces gaps in team members’ learning. This project opens the door for future research on teams in education by examining the conditions that enhance the probability for team effectiveness – here, indexed by team member learning. They extend prior organizational research, such as that of Hackman, by examining a particular type of team – an implementation team – which has been under‐explored in extant research. Learning within teams may be critical to sustaining change efforts both within schools and school systems. They hope this work will inspire future research on the conditions that enhance the probability for team effectiveness in district teams and, in particular, on the ways in which sociostructural conditions such as positional diversity may enhance or detract from the likelihood of learning and sustainable organizational change.

Principal Leadership in Chicago Public Schools (CPS)
This project was led by the Project for Policy Innovation in Education, with support from the Chicago Public Education Fund. Professor Higgins was asked to join as an expert on leadership. Higgins worked closely with CPS and doctoral students Rebecca Holcombe and Ann Ishimaru to design a teacher survey to assess principal effectiveness in CPS. Based upon their shared view that leadership is about building capacity in organizational systems so that individuals can do their best work, they incorporated measures of organizational learning into this survey of leader effectiveness. In this context, a highly effective organizational learning environment is one in which teachers engage in learning behaviors such as speaking up, asking for help, admitting errors, and trying out new ideas that incorporate new knowledge to change their instructional practice. Last spring, they gathered pilot data from approximately 60 schools distributed across the district and from approximately 1,000 teachers. Due to the transitional state of CPS at the present time, given Arne Duncan’s move to President Obama’s cabinet, the rollout of this project has been put on hold. They are hopeful that the survey can rollout district‐wide sometime in 2010.In the meantime, they are writing a paper from these pilot data called "Exploring the Building Blocks of Learning in Schools." In this paper, they provide insights into the ways in which schools and principal leadership support teacher learning. The organizational learning measures that they modified and incorporated into this teacher survey were based upon measures used extensively in organizational learning studies in organizational behavior research in other sectors, such as healthcare (e.g., by organizational scholar Amy Edmondson). Just as prior studies in other sectors have demonstrated that improving conditions for organizational learning within units leads to enhanced performance, they expect that improving organizational learning within schools will yield evidence of positive change. Their goals for this first paper are threefold: first, to extend organizational theory on organizational learning to the education literature; second, to introduce an organizational learning tool used extensively in organizational theory and to report on the reliability of the instrument in this context; and three, to explore how certain dimensions of organizational learning relate to performance indicators such as enhanced teacher collaboration around instructional practice.Findings from these pilot data suggest two particular avenues worthy of future research. First, these findings suggest that future studies examine the role that psychological safety – that is, the ability to speak up and ask for help – plays in creating positive conditions for teachers to improve their instructional practice. Second, the findings suggest that future research examine the role of principal behaviors such as encouraging multiple views and listening attentively in school improvement efforts. Higgins, Holcombe and Ishimaru also report on some ancillary analyses regarding accountability in this study; their findings suggest that when teachers experience high external accountability, they also report feeling less psychologically safe to speak up, to ask questions, and to collaborate to improve their practice. This paper foreshadows the larger research project we have launched in New York City Schools that examines in depth teacher perceptions of their work environment and how conducive school climate is to learning behaviors (e.g., experimenting with new teaching practices) and, at the same time, to retaining high standards for accountability. Their first paper from the CPS Principal Leadership Project is currently under review at an education journal.


Morning Star Teaching Award, Harvard Graduate School of Education,(2009)

Paper presentation in symposium awarded Best Symposium in the Careers Division of the Academy of Management Conference.,(2007)

Best Symposium in the Careers Division, Academy of Management Conference,(2006)

Best Paper Proceedings (with J. Kim), Academy of Management Conference,(2005)

Best Symposium in the Careers Division (with S. Dobrow), Academy of Management Conference,(2004)

Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award Nominee, Harvard Business School,(2004)

Everett Mendelsohn Excellence in Mentoring Award Nominee, Harvard Business School,(2003)

William A. Owens Scholarly Achievement Award Nominee (with K.E. Kram), Academy of Management,(2003)

Best Paper in the Careers Division, Academy of Management Conference,(1998)

Distinction for General Exams in Social Psychology, Harvard University,(1995)

Edward Tuck Scholar, Tuck Business School, Dartmouth College,(1990)

Graduate with Distinction, Tuck Business School, Dartmouth College,(1990)

Phi Beta Kappa, Summa cum laude, High Honors in Policy Studies, Dartmouth College,(1986)


Higgins, M.C., Riza, S., Weiner, J., & Liu, H. (2022). When is Psychological Safety Helpful in Organizations? A Longitudinal Study. Academy of Management Discoveries Journal, 8(1), 1-26.

Dobrow, S., & Higgins, M.C. (2019). The dynamics of developmental networks. Academy of Management Discoveries Journal, 5(3), 221-250.

Weiner, J., & Higgins, J. (2017). Where the two shall meet: Exploring the relationship between teacher culture and student culture. Journal of Education Change, 18(1): 21-48.

Edmondson, A.C.,* Higgins, M.C., Singer, S.J. and Weiner, J. (2016). Understanding psychological safety in healthcare and education organizations: A comparative perspective. Research in Human Development. [* Authorship alphabetical]

Johnson, S.M., Marietta, G., Higgins, M.C., Mapp, K.L., & Grossman, A. (2015). Achieving coherence in district improvement: Managing the relationship between the central office and schools. Cambridge: Harvard Education Press.

Higgins, M.C., Weiner, J., & Young, L.A. (2012). Implementation teams: A new lever for organizational change. [Special Issue: The Changing Ecology of Teams], Journal of Organizational Behavior, 33(3): 366-388.

Higgins, M.C. (January/February, 2012). Knowing how to help: Building teacher self-efficacy is trickier than it seems. Principal Magazine.

Higgins, M., Dobrow, S. R., & Roloff, K. S. (2010). Optimism and the boundaryless career: The role of developmental relationships. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 31(5), 749-769.

With Rick Hess. "Learning to succeed at scale." Journal of School Choice. 3(1), 8-24, (2009).

Higgins, M.C., Young, L.A., Weiner, J., & Wlodarczyk, S. (2009). Leading teams of leaders: What helps team member learning? Phi Delta Kappan, 91(4).

Marina Lee at Meumona (A,B). With Marcia Russell. HGSE Case, (2008).

Tiffany Cheng at Dignitas (A,B). With Lissa Young and Bristol Charrow. HGSE Case, (2008).

Work is Good: Branding the Employability Mission. With Lynda Applegate and Susan Saltrick. HBS Case 809-028, (2008).

With Kathy Kram. "A new mindset on mentoring: Creating developmental networks at work." In Business Insights, a joint publication by the Wall Street Journal and the MIT Sloan Management Review, (2008).

With Shasha Dobrow and Dawn Chandler. "Never quite good enough: The paradox of sticky developmental relationships for elite university graduates." Special Interdisciplinary Issue on Mentoring, Journal of Vocational Behavior 72: 207-224, (2008).

With Dawn Chandler and Kathy E. Kram. “Boundary spanning of developmental networks: A social network perspective on mentoring,” In Ragins, B.R. and Kram, K.E. (Eds.), The Handbook of Mentoring at Work: Theory, Research, and Practice, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, (2007).

With James R. Dillon. “Career patterns and organizational performance,” In Peiperl, M. and Gunz, H. (Eds.), Handbook of Career Studies, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications: 422-436, (2007).

With Jerry Kim. “Where do alliances come from? The role of upper echelons in alliance formation.” Research Policy, 3(4): 499-514, (2007).

“We’re Here to Help (Not!)” In Maruca, R. (Ed.), What Managers Say, What Employees Hear: Connecting with Your Front Line (So They’ll Connect with Customers), Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers: 65-72, (2006).

“A contingency perspective on developmental networks,” In Dutton, J. and Ragins, B.R. (Eds.), Exploring Positive Relationships at Work: Building a Theoretical and Research Foundation, Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: 207-224, (2006).

With Jonathon Cummings. “Relational instability at the core: Support dynamics in developmental networks.” Social Networks, 28: 38–55, (2006).

With Ranjay Gulati. “Stacking the deck: The effects of top management team composition on investor decision-making.” Strategic Management Journal, 27(1): 1–25, (2006).

With Shasa Dobrow. “Developmental networks and professional identity: A longitudinal study.” Special Issue on Mentoring, Career Development International, 10(6/7): 567–587, (2005).

Career Imprints: Creating Leaders Across an Industry. Warren Bennis’s Leadership Development Series, Jossey-Bass Publishers/A Wiley Company. (April, 2005).

“Career imprinting and leadership development: Theory and practice.” In Chowdhury, S. (Ed.), Next Generation Business Handbook. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley: 91–105, (2004).

With Ranjay Gulati. “Which ties matter when? The contingent effects of interorganizational partnerships on IPO Success.” Strategic Management Journal, 24(2):127–144, (2003).

With Ranjay Gulati. “Getting off to a good start: The effects of upper echelon affiliations on underwriter prestige.” Organization Science, 14(3): 244–263, (2003).

“Careers creating industries: Some early evidence from the biotechnology industry.” In Peiperl, M.B., Arthur, M.B., and Anand, N. (Eds.), Career Creativity: Explorations in the Remaking ofWork, Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press: 280–297, (2002).

“Follow the leader? The effects of social influence on employer choice.” Group and Organization Management. Special Issue of Careers in the 21st Century, Summer(3): 255–282, (2001).

“When is helping helpful? Effects of evaluation and intervention timing on individual task performance.” Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 37(3): 280–298, (2001).

With David A. Thomas. “Constellations and careers: Toward understanding the effects of multiple developmental relationships.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22(3): 223–247, (2001).

“Changing careers: The effects of social context.” Journal of Organizational Behavior, 22(6): 595–618, (2001).

With Kathy E. Kram. “Reconceptualizing mentoring at work: A developmental network perspective.” Academy of Management Review, 26(2): 264–288, (2001).

With Lloyd Trotter, Steven L. Ablon, Stuart Pearson, and Mohan Mohan. “What should C.J. do?” (comment on case entitled, “Too old to learn?”, by Diane L. Coutu). Harvard Business Review, 78(6): 43–52, (2000).

“The more, the merrier? Multiple developmental relationships and work satisfaction.” Journal of Management Development, 19(4): 277–296, (2000).

With Nitin Nohria. “The side-kick effect: Mentoring relationships and the development of social capital.” In Leenders, R. and Gabbay, S. (Eds.), Corporate Social Capital and Liability. Boston: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 161–179, (1999).

With David A. Thomas. “Mentoring and the boundaryless career: Lessons from the minority experience.” In Arthur, M.B. and Rousseau, D.M. (Eds.), The Boundaryless Career: A New Employment Principle for a New Organizational Era. New York: Oxford University Press: 268–281, (1996).


Member, American Educational Research Association (AERA),(2008-present)

Member, Editorial Board, Career Development International ,(2003-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Academy of Management Review,(1995-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Administrative Science Quarterly,(1995-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Journal of Applied Behavioral Science,(1995-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Journal of Applied Psychology,(1995-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Journal of Applied Social Psychology,(1995-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Journal of Research Policy,(1995-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Organization Science,(1995-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Organization Studies,(1995-present)

Ad hoc Reviewer, Strategic Management Journal,(1995-present)

Member, American Psychological Association,(1995-present)

Member, Careers Division, Academy of Management,(1995-present)

Member, European Groups and Organizational Studies,(1995-present)

Member, Organization & Management Theory Division, Academy of Management,(1995-present)

Member, Organizational Behavior Division, Academy of Management,(1995-present)

Previous Member, International Network of Social Network Analysis,(1995-present)

Previous Member, Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology,(1995-present)

Member, Editorial Board, Journal of Organizational Behavior,(2001-2014)

Member, Curriculum Spine Subcommittee, Harvard Business School Models of Success Committee,(2004-2006)

Member, Advisory Committee, Harvard Business School Career Services,(2003-2006)

Moderator/Speaker, Harvard Medical School Biotechnology Club,(2002-2006)

Panelist & Instructor, START program, Harvard Business School,(1995-2006)

Member, Editorial Board, Academy of Management Journal,(2000-2004)

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