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.