Ronald K. Leonard

My introduction to and subsequent collaboration with Ron began in August 1987 shortly after he began his role as Director, Worldwide Agricultural Tractor and Component Engineering at the John Deere Product Engineering Center (PEC) in Waterloo, IA. Coincidentally, I founded Bosserman & Associates, Inc., (B&A) that same year and thus began my thirty-year run as an independent consultant. Initially, B&A subcontracted through another consulting firm retained by Deere in support of a joint, labor-management Employee Involvement initiative. Then, two years later B&A contracted directly with Deere. Ron’s and my professional relationship at Deere continued until his retirement in 1997.

During this time, Ron and I had the opportunity to work together on various projects within PEC and with engineering entities located in manufacturing units, equipment divisions, and corporate, domestically and internationally, throughout Deere. As a result of our collaboration, we developed and successfully implemented organization designs that not only improved engineering performance, they transformed the culture of the engineering community at Deere so that those immediate gains persisted and became the foundation for Deere’s future growth and global expansion.

In reflecting on our 10 years of working together at Deere, Ron demonstrated the qualities of what I term a “Renaissance Engineer” in that he could not only solve product and technology-related problems — the raison d’être for any engineer — he routinely addressed and overcame organization challenges that confronted people throughout the administrative and frontline ranks and often compromised their individual and collective performance.

Ron inspired people with a vision of possibility they could buy into and want to make happen. He opened lines of communication 1 so they would have the confidence to seize opportunities yet manage expectations. He streamlined the organizational structure so they could act on their own authority yet assume collective responsibility for outcomes. He convened and brokered diverse, multi-unit, multi-division groupings at all levels to facilitate the implementation of product / technology-related programs and the adoption of common processes and tools that, together, increased the output, reduced the cost, and built-up the capacity of the engineering community at Deere. 2 He mentored those willing to learn about how to navigate the political rapids yet honor management’s tolerance for risk and left behind a legacy of graduates from Ron Leonard’s “school of engineering management” to carry on in his stead throughout Deere. Ultimately, he accelerated the rate of innovation in technology, products, and processes yet respected the rate by which the organization was willing to change — the net result was SUSTAINED growth.3

In many ways, I, too, was a graduate of Ron’s “school”. Unlike many clients, he did not regard me as an external contractor he could drain dry of information then discard or a potential internal competitor whose exposure he needed to limit. From the start he mentored me in how to be a more effective consultant and how to establish my business so it stayed on a sustainable course. Clearly, he followed a key leadership philosophy that associated achievement with the success of everyone necessary to make it happen.

As a result of Ron’s introductions and encouragement, my business expanded, domestically and internationally, and extended well beyond my original involvement at PEC. In 1994, he advised me to partner with others in the formation of new consulting business so I could better manage business growth and prevent overwhelm. The result was WorkSpan, Inc. 4, a consultancy through which many of the organization designs that Ron and I developed and applied in Deere we adapted to professional societies, government agencies, private foundations, and land-grant universities.

Among the WorkSpan, Inc. clients 5 was the W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF) to which WorkSpan offered direct consulting to several WKKF grantees, most notably through the Food Systems Professions Education (FSPE) initiative 6. Iowa State University was one of the FSPE grantees through Vision 2020, a program administered by Gerald Konglan, Program Director, and co-Program Coordinators, Bill Silag and Ann Fields 7. They along with others from ISU participated in several engagements organized by WorkSpan principals. Bill and Ann summarized the ISU experience in a book they co-authored, Creating the Engaged University: Iowa’s Model for Change 8 which includes a number of references to change models and strategies based on Ron’s and my work.

In 1997, Ron joined WorkSpan, Inc. 9, This was a transition he had casually considered prior to his retirement, but became an irresistible draw afterward due to the new and intriguing situations we were finding. Ron served as our board chairman from 1997 through 2002. Among our accomplishments during this period included a series of Leadership for Institutional Change (LINC) workshops:

“To facilitate learning throughout the twelve projects, six leadership workshops are being held during 1998 and 1999 to build capacity for change within their institutions. WorkSpan, Inc. 10 with expertise in holistic approaches to organizational change has been retained to facilitate the Workshop Series. The Workshops are held every four months, with 5-7 different faculty, staff, administrative, and/or student participants from each project in attendance at each Workshop. The goal of each Workshop is to share learnings with each other and plan for continued learning on the return to campus.” 11

In 2002, WorkSpan principals made the decision to close the business after a successful eight-year run. Again, Ron’s leadership brought us to this decision through the acknowledgement that each of us had fresh opportunities outside WorkSpan we wanted to pursue; WorkSpan had accomplished far more than what it had originally set out to do; and there’s nothing better than “quitting while one is ahead.”

Following the closure of WorkSpan, Ron’s interests and energies explored new opportunities to make a difference and enjoy life. Among his many “projects” included researching, outlining and writing a book about his experiences as Deere’s first director of Worldwide Agricultural Tractor and Component Engineering.

He envisioned it offering detailed insights about the people he worked with at Deere, how they made decisions about tractor markets served, product specifications, design processes, manufacturing locations, etc. given the current and prospective business climate, and what changes they made in the organization’s structure and culture to align with the course they wanted to follow. He asked me to contribute to the section about organization design. Unfortunately, timing and circumstances did not allow us to complete it before Ron passed in November 2021. Even though our stories about the people and company might make compelling reading for industry historians and those remaining who shared our experiences, they would not warrant the struggle to receive the necessary permissions and acknowledgements as an authorized account. Still, the models and techniques for organization design that Ron and I with many others developed and applied have significant, lasting value to agents of change today and well into the future. It is in the spirit of assumed usefulness and service to others that I make these “change management tools” accessible through the postings that follow.

  1. Bosserman, Steven L., and Ronald K. Leonard. “Toward Compassion and Understanding.” Agricultural Engineering, 1993, 10-13.
  2. Leonard, Ronald K., Robert D. Wismer, and Steve Bosserman. “Building an Integrated Engineering Organization.” Research Technology Management 37, no. 6 (1994): 14–20.
  3. Leonard, Ronald K., and Steven L Bosserman. “Nurturing a Culture for Growth.” Resource Journal, 1995.
  4. Bosserman, Steven L. “A Bridge to a New Age of Work.” WorkSpan, Inc., 1998.
  5. Bosworth, Douglas L. “WorkSpan, Inc.’s Clients.” WorkSpan, Inc., 2000.
  6. Worthen, Blaine, Adrian von Mondfrans, and Jan Sweeney. “Changing How Higher Education Works: Successes and Lessons Learned from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation’s Food Systems Professions Education Initiative.” W.K. Kellogg Foundation, April 2003.
  7. Dillavou, Laura. “Ann Fields Named President of William Penn University.” College of Human Sciences Archive (blog), February 18, 2010.
  8. Silag, Bill, and Ann Fields. Creating the Engaged University: Iowa’s Model for Change. Ames: Iowa State University, 2001.
  9. Leonard, Ronald K. “Ronald K. Leonard of WorkSpan, Inc.” WorkSpan, Inc., 1998.
  10. Bosserman, Steven L. “WorkSpan, Inc., Holistic Approaches to the Challenge of Change.” WorkSpan, Inc., 1998.
  11. Baten, Valerie. “Kellogg LINC – About Us.” Kellogg LINC, August 4, 2002.