3. A Brief Overview of Our Understanding of adult development, organizations, and the common threads – Part 2

Just as our understanding of how adults learn and develop has evolved over the past several decades so too has our understanding of both how organizations work and our appreciation of the complexity of management and leadership. In this post I want to offer a very brief outline of how our understanding of organizations, management, and leadership has evolved

Our Understanding of Organizations Taylor’s “scientific management” theory, first developed in the early 1900’s, continues to influence how we perceive and understand organizations. Many of us continue to view organizations as industrial complexes that operate like machines. Other researchers, like Lewin, Trist, McGregor, and Maslow, began the exploration of the “human side” of organizations. Over the past 30 years we have come to understand that the metaphors we use to describe organizations influence how we understand organizations. Bolman and Deal offer us “four frames” – the Structural, Human Resource, Political and Symbolic frames – each of which shapes what we see and understand about an organization. Morgan goes beyond Bolman and Deals four frames and offers a host of metaphors or “images of organizations.”

Similarly we continue to learn about the complexities of managing change. What was once considered a matter of creating an engaging vision supported by a detailed plan is now understood as being much more complex. The human dynamics of change – or more precisely the importance of human response to change – is now clearly recognized. We also recognize different types of change: developmental, transitional, and transformational. Understanding the type of change we are facing helps us identify the most effective interventions and change strategies.

Management and Leadership Not that long ago leadership was considered the purview of the few – the great men and women thrust into the limelight by dent of circumstance, position, and/or personality. Management was the principle focus of those studying the needs of organizations and being a manager was considered an important calling. Over the last half of the 20th Century we witnessed a surge of interest in leadership – leadership was the key to success and interest in management increasingly took a back-seat.

Over the past decade we have come to understand that organizations need both good management and good leadership – and that it is both difficult and potentially un-useful to try to separate the two into discrete concepts. To paraphrase Mintzberg “we don’t want leaders who can’t manage and we don’t want managers who can’t lead!”

It is also evident that leadership isn’t just a cognitive skill but requires a balance of cognitive, emotional, and psychological development – and particularly self-awareness. We are increasingly aware that, like learning and change, there are different types or styles of leadership or different applications of leadership and each type has specific benefits and application. For example Ron Hiefetz identifies two distinct types of work leaders undertake - technical and adaptive – each type of work draws upon different skills and insights. Awareness of the different styles of leadership and the types of work done by leaders enables us to identify how we engage in the situation – it also helps us identify areas for our own development.

What are the common threads? The obvious common thread of the topics touched-upon in this and the previous post is the increasing use of the word “complexity” in our discussion of learning, organization development, and leadership. We have to balance more competing interests and demands; we have to juggle competing expectations and capacities. We increasingly understand that we are continuously faced with a series of paradoxes requiring us to develop the capacity to adjust to rapidly changing situations and to remain open to new ways of understanding.

But how do we keep the various “moving parts” in mind? The following diagram, developed by Ron Cacioppe, is a useful tool for helping us retain our broad focus and avoid getting trapped into an overly narrow perspective. Notice the four quadrants created by the two axes of individual-organizational and relationships-results (Heart, Hands, Head, and Spirit). Two of the quadrants, Spirit and Heart, focus on leadership skills/tasks and the other two, Hands and Head, focus on management skills and tasks. In developing this diagram Cacioppe drew upon Wilber’s “integral theory” and Quinn’s competing values theory.

To achieve our full potential we need to balance development in all four quadrants. We also need to pay attention to our progress along each of the lines of development. At the core is our authentic self – our self-awareness. As you work on your own professional and personal growth try to keep these various roles and tasks in mind. Think of ways that you can enhance your strengths and develop those you need or want to enhance.

If you are interested in learning a bit more about Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory and aren’t quite ready to dive into one of his many great books drop me a note and I will send you a short primer I developed a few years back.

Taking Control of Your Own Learning and Development In this and the last post I have covered a lot of territory and have likely left you with a lot of questions. Hopefully I have also tweaked your curiosity and motivated you to learn more. In particular I hope your desire to take direct control of your own learning and development – both personal and professional – has been reinforced.

The great news is that by you reading this post I can pretty much guarantee you have lots of opportunity to expand your growth and development. Think about enrolling in a course or workshop, perhaps sign up for a MOOC (take a look at one that Robert Kegan regularly offers through Harvard), or engage a coach, or simply start to do a bit more reading. Just try to pick an approach that fits your preferred learning style – and remember that lots of books and articles come in audible formats and there is a lot of great material you can find on YouTube and TED Talks.

If you want a little help to get going or if you want to bounce a few ideas around drop me a note – I will be delighted to have a conversation with you!!

If you want to explore any of the topics touched upon in this post in more detail here are a few references that will help you get launched – drop me a note if you have a question or would like some additional suggestions for further reading:

The Reflective Practitioner, D. Schon

The Human Side of the Enterprise, D. McGregor

Images of Organizations, G. Morgan

Reframing Organizations, Bolman and Deal

The Change Leaders Roadmap, L. Ackerman-Anderson and D. Anderson

Leadership for the 21st Century, J. Rost

Leadership without Easy Answers, R. Hiefetz

Managers not MBA’s, H. Mintzberg

Simply Management: What Managers Do - and Can Do Better – H. Mintzberg

Seeking the Holy Grail of Organization Development, R. Cacioppe (article)

The Opposable Mind, R. Martin

A Brief History of Everything, K. Wilber

Competing Values Leadership, R.E. Quinn et al

Over my next three blog posts I intend to explore three techniques or practices that can use both promote and accelerate your learning and growth: reflection or reflective practice; journaling; and, mindfulness. Each is powerful in its own right but together they create a trifecta of learning. More importantly, they don’t have to be shrouded in mystic – with a few simple insights, and a bit of work and effort, you can make them part of your own practice. I guarantee you will be pleased with the return on your investment in time and application.

Love to hear any thoughts or observations so please leave a comment if you are so moved.

2. A brief overview of our expanding understanding of adult development, organizations and the common threads-Part 1

In this post and the next I want to provide a brief overview of some of the current understanding of adult development and organizations as a way of providing a foundation – or a point of departure – for my future blogs. My Intent is to provide a very quick orientation to how I conceptualize issues and some of the thinkers that have influenced my approach.

I have broken the topic into two pieces to order to keep them to a manageable length. This post will look specifically at adult learning and development. The next will focus on management and leadership and will conclude with some brief comments on the common threads between these topics.

The content of these two blog posts is drawn from the Personal Development Workbook that I put together to support my Narrative 360 Profile and coaching clients. My experience was that too often individuals had a 360 Profile done for them, often at great cost, but were then simply left with a Profile but no path for using the information. The up-shot is that many 360 Profiles simply sit on a shelf without generating the type of growth and development that was desired. While the Workbook takes a few hours for the client to work through they are rewarded with a personalized development/learning strategy that they can use to grow both professionally and personally.

Drop me a note if you want to hear more about how I do 360 Profiles and the Workbook.

But now let’s get started!

Over the past 30 years we have witnessed a significant growth in what we understand about learning, organization development, managing change, and leadership. Advances in many fields of study have contributed to this growing understanding – human development, learning and education, individual and organizational psychology, management and administration, economics, sociology, neuropsychology, mindfulness and spirituality to name just a few.

It would be easy to write pages on each of these topics and yet barely scratch the surface. Indeed there have been hundreds of books and article written to date yet we are far from knowing all there is to know.

What follows is a very brief overview of some of the most important – to my mind – thinkers and their thoughts in the areas of adult development and learning.

We know that humans can and do develop cognitively throughout their adult lives. The early work of Piaget, who identified stages of cognitive development in children, has been extended by other scholars like Robert Kegan who have identified a cascading number of stages of cognitive development that we can continue to transvers throughout our lives. Others, like Gardner and Goleman, have identified other forms or types of “intelligence” (e.g. emotional, social, spatial, linguistic, etc.) that we possess and can develop over our lives. Many observers refer to these types of intelligences as “lines of development.” Each type of “intelligence” or “line of development” contributes to our success. To attain our full potential we need to balance our development across the various lines or types.

Our understanding of the learning process has also become richer. Researchers like Jack Mezirow have helped us recognize that there are at least two types of learning: 1) informational learning - gathering more facts and “things”; and, 2) transformational learning - how we make sense of our experiences, the facts and things, in new ways. Mezirow also introduced the concept of the “disorienting dilemma” – the experience of finding that what had “worked” for us in previous situations doesn’t work in a new situation, causing us to restructure how we understand something – to connect the dots in a different manner – resulting in “transformational learning.” Sometimes these two types of learning are referred to as “horizontal” and “vertical” learning respectively.

Torbert’s work on “action inquiry” generated the concept of triple loop thinking. Broadly speaking triple-loop thinking is an expression of transformational learning that can emerge from a “disorienting dilemma” – but more importantly it encourages us to consciously shift our perspective or change the types of questions we ask thus developing a more complete understanding of a situation or experience.

Most of us have experienced the learning that emerges as we apply new skills or knowledge in our regular work or when we participate in a special project – this powerful vehicle for adult learning is known as “action learning” (a distinct process and not directly related to Torbert’s action inquiry). The process of action learning was first formulated by Reg Revans in the 1940’s and has become a main-stay in workplace-based learning. Now most professional development programs in North America make extensive use of action learning – embedding the learning of new techniques and processes in workplace-based projects. Self-awareness and reflective practice are also recognized as important aspects of adult learning. Donald Schon is, perhaps the most well-known proponent of reflective practice with his seminal book The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Practice (1984). David Kolb is one of several other authors, following Schon’s work, who have described the power of “reflection” in the learning process and his theory of “experiential learning” has also become a foundation piece for many adult learning programs. Consciously developing our capacity to reflect on experience means we can learn from the experience.

Mumford and Honey used Kolb’s basic cycle to identify different adult learning “styles” – we each have a preferred learning style but we can also enhance our use of the other three styles. Understanding our own preferred learning style helps us identify appropriate learning opportunities for ourselves. Recognizing the potential learning styles of others helps us identify opportunities to enhance how we work together.

Increasingly it is recognized that humans are “meaning making” creatures, we need to find meaning in what we experience. As our lives become increasingly complex we have the capacity to engage in increasingly complex thinking – but it takes a bit of work, we have to be willing to learn.

This has been a whirl-wind tour of a broad and complex set of topics and I make no pretext of having done justice to any of them. My sole intent has been to ensure that the reader has a high-level sense of the various topics that will be explored in future posts – a quick “lay of the land” overview. In the next posting I will continue this high-speed tour looking at our emerging understanding of organizational behaviour, management and leadership before finishing up with a few words on how the topics covered in these two posts can be woven together to create a robust understanding of how humans grow and learn and how organizations also evolve.

If you want to explore any of the topics in more detail here are a few references that will help you get launched – drop me a note if you have a question or would like some additional suggestions for further reading:

In Over Our Heads, Robert Kegan

Leading Minds, H Gardner

Emotional Intelligence, D. Goleman

Action Inquiry, William Torbert

Action Learning, R. Revans

Transformative Learning in Practice, J. Mezirow

Experiential Learning, D.A. Kolb

Manual of Learning Styles, P Honey and A Mumford

Teaching Smart People How to Learn, C. Argyris

The Reflective Practitioner, D. Schon

Similar to how our understanding of adult development and growth has evolved and grown in the past decades so to has our understanding of organizations, organizational development and our knowledge of leadership and management. But these are topics for my next blog post.

Love to hear any thoughts or observations so please leave a comment if you are so moved.

1. Setting the Context : the Questions That Captivate Me

For some time now I have felt the urge to blog – to put out to the World some of my thoughts and insights. For a lot of reasons, both benign and less positive, I have managed to avoid executing this desire to blog.

Well my procrastination and dithering has come to an end – over the coming months I will post regular selections of what I am thinking about and how my thinking has evolved.

This first posting is intended to introduce myself, give you a bit of my background which I hope will help you navigate my thoughts and to sketch a high-level outline of what you can expect in the coming months.

So who am I – that is a question that could take some time to address but a few quick comments should suffice here. I am a proud Canadian who has spent much of my life living on Vancouver Island though I have lived and worked in other locations. I am now a grandfather – 10 years ago I wouldn’t have imagined I would enjoy this role but I do and it does have an effect on how you understand the World and your role/contribution in it.

For much of my life I have been a keen participant in community life – volunteering in various capacities, attending public events, following the political discourse and on occasion becoming directly involved in the political process (no I have never run for public office but there are other ways of being directly involved). These are habits I acquired from my family.

For over 20 years I worked in the British Columbia Public Service across a variety of policy areas and central agencies. I hadn’t intended to be a public servant, joining as a contract staff person and discovering I enjoyed the work, but I enjoyed a very diverse, challenging and rewarding career.

Shortly before leaving the public service I began a PhD in Leadership and Change through Antioch University. While I started the PhD thinking that it would help me integrate my “life-experience” and set my on a positive track for my life as a consultant I discovered it was a life-changing experience in many ways – all positive

Since leaving the public service, not quite 10 years ago, I finished my PhD and have developed a comfortable consulting and coaching practice. I have also enjoyed being an adjunct faculty member with a couple of post-secondary institutions

Over my professional career and my academic studies a number of questions have consistently captured my imagination:

  1. Why is it that we have so many great books, articles etc. related to management and leadership yet we still have so many problems/issues/failures?
  2. Why is it that some folks seem to understand and adapt to situations naturally while others don’t?
  3. Why is it that some folks quickly see different patterns that could emerge from data/context/situation while others continually see only the one pattern?
  4. Why is it that so many speak of the significance of transformational learning yet there seems to be so little taking place?
  5. Why is it that we have been developing change management tools and techniques for several decades (centuries?) yet we still note that upwards of 75% fail?

These are some of the questions, along with others, that provided the motivation to pursue an interdisciplinary PhD in Leadership and Change. I want to acknowledge a few of the people to whom I was exposed during my PhD studies and who have been a major influence on my own thinking – these include Dr. Robert Kegan, Dr. William Torbert, Dr. Henry Mintzberg, Dr. Ronald Hiefetz, Dr. John Kotter and in particular my dissertation committee members, Dr. Elizabeth Holloway, Dr. Donald Polkinghorne, Dr. Peter Vaill and Dr. Michael Caroll. These people, and others, also introduced me to writers like Vygostky, Lewin, Maslow, Charles and Edie Seashore, Piaget and so many others.

I am also indebted to the work of Ken Wilber who’s Integral Theory, particularly as expressed in his AQAL Theory, has provided an elegant yet accessible way of drawing together the many desperate ideas, insights, and theories that have shaped my approach to learning, working with organizations, and coaching. There is not sufficient space in this entry to do justice to the breadth of Wilber’s thinking ( I will return to his work in future blog entries) but a few quick points will hopefully give you a sense of its breadth:

  1. Integral Theory is a meta- theory that creates the ability to construct a trans-disciplinary approach to understanding complex issues;
  2. No single theory contains all truth about a particular issue but all theories provide some truth – we can’t become a captive of any one theory nor should be hastily reject a theory;
  3. Wilber works with the theory of holons to demonstrate that everything is connected to everything – whatever we do will have an effect on many other issues ; and,
  4. Wilber identifies four fundamental quadrants into which all other theories can be categorized – 1. Individual/Subjective/Interior (my values, intellect, etc.), 2. Individual/Objective/Exterior (my behaviours, skills, applied knowledge), 3. Collective/Objective/Exterior,(our processes, systems, structures, etc.). and 4. Collective/Subjective/Interior (our language, shared values, etc.)– but acknowledges that based on point 3 we can’t work in one quadrant without effecting the other three.

Over the coming blog entries I am going to explore how my thinking has evolved and taken shape over the years. My next two posts will provide a very brief overview of how our understanding of adult development, management, leadership, and organizations has changed and grown deeper. Subsequent blog entries will s explore the idea of taking control of our own development and a number of techniques for doing so, e.g. reflective practice, journaling, and mindfulness. In each case I will note the quadrant to which the post/blog speaks most directly.

I invite you to travel with me through this experience and to share your thoughts with me directly