28 October 2011

Reflections on Creating a Degree Program: Conversation Café 1

Having spent a good part of this week reflecting on the insight, suggestions, and collective wisdom shared at our first Conversation Café for the master’s degree we are developing in leadership and organization development, and executive coaching, here are some ideas and inspirations that stand out for me.

Most academic degree programs are focused on knowledge. If there is a critical or constructivist bent about them, they include a strong acknowledgement of ways of knowing. If the degree is professionally oriented, as opposed to more purely academically focused, it will additionally have a strong emphasis on practice, or ways of doing. What we heard strongly from our participants – consistent with my own thinking – is that this new program must also encourage individual transformation—realization of each participant’s human potential, holding an inherent optimism in the value of that potential, and being true to the notion that individual change is intimately connected and implicated in the larger project of social change. This adds one more “ways” dimension to knowing and doing, namely an equal emphasis on ways of being in the world, and particularly, ways of being in relation in the world.

We can consolidate these ideas as Savoir3: Savoir, Savoir Faire, and Savoir Être, or Knowing, Acting, and Being. These three, to be integrated by design into all aspects of the degree program, represent the dual ethos of praxis and transformation that informs not only our program and pedagogy, but the intended experiences that we intent to enable among our participants. Thus, what may well become the slogan of our eventual degree program is almost self-evident:
Transform the individual.
Transform the organization.
Transform the world.

How, then, will our students know if they are successful in the context of such guiding principles; indeed, how will we know if our program itself is successful? With conventional academic degrees, the answer is fairly obvious: students are graded for assignments and summative assessments according to some appropriate rubric, they accumulate a certain number of course credits that are required to complete degree requirements, and the school itself processes… rather, graduates a continual flow of completed candidates.

However, if the objective of both the program and (presumably) the students themselves is transformation, how can that be assessed in a more-or-less rigorous, but non-positivist, fashion? (There is another post begging to be written on how the notion of objectivity – externally constructed measures of truth that impose themselves as structure – renders a degree program inorganic; in other words, dead—but that's for another day.) Several Conversation Café participants coalesced around the idea of defining success in terms of the participants’ individually held understanding of “where and how do I want to grow?” and “what needs of mine am I trying to fill?” This is a useful starting point, as it suggests appropriately facilitated processes of reflection and check-in through our participants’ transition through the degree process. However, a large part of measuring transformation must be rooted in how the individual’s perceived needs evolve and emerge consistent with the individual’s changing worldview. Merely satisfying preconceived needs and attaining goals projected from one’s starting point suggest a deterministic process that is inconsistent with the type of transformative effects that are at the heart of the program’s ethos. In particular, the program can only consider itself successful if there are aspects that the learner will discover as s/he navigates the program experiences through which individual transformation begins to emerge. It is quite likely that the successful participants will change their intended and desired outcomes for growth, personal transformation, and perceived needs during the course of the program. Conversely, we might say that if one’s recognized and self-perceived needs haven’t changed by the end of the program, the person simply hasn’t been paying attention!

How, then, do we evaluate our students? As a capstone or thesis endeavour, they must be able to usefully demonstrate what they have contributed in their individual and collective transformative contexts to Savoir3—Knowledge, Action, and Reflection on Being. Success is manifest in the students necessarily engaging in complexity thinking, creating connections in social relation as a way of being, and having experienced transformation among the three elements that comprise Savoir3. Part of the summative evaluation challenge for the students will be for them to design and realize that demonstration—how’s that for transformation in pedagogy?

In many contemporary degree programs that address leadership and organization development, there is a strong thread – if not overarching theme – of change. Change management, resistance to change, organizing for change, ensuring organizational readiness for change, technologies of change—I hate to use the very tired cliché of “and the list goes on,” but I’ve surveyed quite a few graduate programs and the list indeed continues in this fashion!

In keeping true to the ethos that inspires and provides impetus for this program we – without question – need to foster a change in our own understanding and experience of change itself: from deterministic, planful, outcome/objective/goal-biased change to an appreciation and understanding of, and comfort with, emergent transformation, navigating intended effects among complex human environments. This concept strongly suggests – almost mandates –  considerable care in adopting a new(er) lexicon throughout our curriculum content and subject matter. Curriculum is only a framework for the program. To effect the type of transformation suggested by holding true to Savoir3, our intent in course designs will be to create powerful experiences that will enable our students to make sense of their own contexts and histories through both the source materials and collective experiences of instructors, other participants, and other engaged constituencies. Out of these powerful, sense-making experiences Savoir3 will emerge in ways that complete the course syllabi and overall curriculum.

If you are interested in contributing to this conversation, there are still a few places available for both our November 1 and November 7 Conversation Cafés in Toronto—please contact me for details and an invitation. And, if you are unable to attend, I would be grateful to hear your thoughts, either in the comments or directly by email.

21 October 2011

To Transform the World...

The business strategy underlying the new master's degree program we are creating:
"To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves. However small may be the world we live in, if we can transform ourselves, bring about a radically different point of view in our daily existence, then perhaps we shall affect the world at large, the extended relationship with others." - J. Krishnamurti
Business strategy, you ask? Indeed: it this reifying this realization that will make our proposed degree in leadership and organization development, and coaching distinct from similar offerings from larger, more established schools. By transforming the conventional practice of organization development away from the notion of project and change management; conventional leadership away from mustering resources to accomplish missions; and conventional coaching away from instilling hubris-laden over-confidence all towards the tactility of relationship-oriented effects, we will enable strategies to transform business, governmental, and educational organizations for today's world. And that, is an appropriate strategy for contemporary business.

20 October 2011

Narrative Coaching and Organization Transformation

I’ve just spent two days attending a Narrative Coaching workshop offered by David Drake (and the newly formed Canadian Centre for Narrative Coaching). The premise that underlies this particular modality of coaching is, “we are the stories we tell about ourselves, to ourselves.” If we want to change ourselves and overcome obstacles that appear to be blocking our learning, our growth, our development, and (as so often seems to happen) our success, the first step is to change our story. It’s a tremendously useful and powerful technique, and one that is quite comfortable to me, since it aligns quite well with my prior work.

Besides being reminded that I can be a pretty effective coach in my own right (and thanks to the many participants who offered me the privilege of helping them make sense of their challenges), I was struck by the realization of how relevant Valence Theory is to helping organizations make sense of themselves, and of the changing environment to which they must adapt, in the context of narrative coaching. Valence Theory enables organizations to “instantly” transform their story, from an objective- and goal-based, mission-oriented-at-all-costs machine, to an organic, vital, responsive, and naturally adaptive organism comprised of people, environments, constituencies, and most important of all, relationships. This change in the framing of an organization’s story enables its members to make a different sense of their organization’s place in the world, and the effects that they enable and enact—as well as the goals they achieve along the way.

Among the things that excites me about the new master’s degree program we are creating here at the Adler Graduate Professional School is that the program will be internally consistent with the theories of organization, leadership, and coaching that we will espouse via our curriculum and course syllabi. This means that we intend to walk our talk, so to speak, and regularly check-in with ourselves and our member constituencies to ensure that, indeed, the story we are telling ourselves as we progress is one that best serves all of us. This aspect alone, it seems to me, will allow us to set our degree program apart from those that are offered at other schools. Most important, it will enable us to attract both the right students and the right faculty that will contribute their experiences and perceptions, and transform them into knowledge that will inform a very particular practice of leadership and organization development and coaching: praxis that will transform and heal organizations, and beneficially serve contemporary society.

11 October 2011

Interested in Contributing to a New Masters Program in Leadership and Org Development, and Coaching?

The opportunity to participate in creating something new happens upon us all too infrequently. When that “something new” involves something that truly matters to our lives, our practices, our workplaces, and indeed to society as a whole, the opportunity becomes a gift. We are at the beginning of just such an adventure—the creation of what we anticipate will become an accredited Master’s degree in Leadership and Organization Development, and Coaching at the Adler Graduate Professional School.

Consistent with our core team’s philosophy of how engaged and healthy contemporary organizations emerge through creating collaborative relationships, we are holding four evening Conversation Cafés to which we are inviting members of four, key constituencies: Coaches, OD Practitioners, Potential Students (anticipated to be mid-career professionals), and Potential Faculty. Each Conversation Café will be limited to a maximum of twenty participants so that we are able to create effective and engaging interactions among us all.

If the prospect of such a professionally-oriented Master’s degree excites you, we welcome your participation and contributions to help inaugurate a new program that is truly new. Each evening is nominally oriented to each of the four, identified constituencies; we invite you to attend the evening to which you are most drawn. However, if you are unable to attend on the specific night to which you most connect and are nonetheless moved to participate, you are most welcome to attend on any of the other evenings.

The events will be held on:

Monday, October 24 – Coaches & OD Practitioners
Tuesday, November 1 – Potential Faculty
Monday, November 7 – Potential Students

Each event will be held at the Adler Graduate Professional School, 890 Yonge Street (Yonge and Davenport), 9th floor, from 18:00 to 21:00. Light refreshments will be served. Because participation is limited by the dynamics of Conversation Café, and we anticipate there will be broad interest in this exciting initiative, please RSVP directly to me as soon as you are able—and certainly before Friday, October 21 for the first session. Please indicate the evening on which you would like to attend (with a possible second choice in case the evening you request fills up).

We are tremendously excited by the prospects for this new degree, and what it will mean to the practices of Coaching, Organization Development, and Leadership in our remarkably complex, contemporary world.

01 October 2011

A Master's Degree in Leadership and Organization Development, and Coaching

The last chapter of my doctoral thesis was a "Conversation with Nishida" in which I essentially posted a request to the universe to facilitate my life's work of helping organizations to heal based on the ideas of Valence Theory, a new, fundamental, emergent model of organization based on binding and interacting relationships among its multiple, member constituencies. My "inner Zen master," Nishida, instructs me to:
“Become a sensei for others,” he responds without missing a beat. “There are many whom you can inspire with your passion for healing that-which-is-not-well in human interaction all around us.” He spreads his hands wide, palms facing upward. “The writing does not matter; nor do the letters you will acquire after your name. To inspire others to perceive, to question, to contemplate, to reflect, to respond—to think new thoughts about all they may have seen for years throughout their lives but too readily accept or ignore. Those are the important matters to which you must now turn your attention. This thesis is done. Now you must begin.”
The universe tends to respond to such requests in unexpected ways. Defying all conventional logic (but what else is new?) I have been offered the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a collaboration that will bring a new graduate program into being at the recently accredited Adler Graduate Professional School, (tentatively to be called) a Master's in Leadership and Organization Development, and Coaching - M.LODC, pronounced "melodic," as in "creating harmonious organizations. As we are right at the beginning of this adventure, whatever exists so far is contingent, speculative, aspirational, and - at best - cast in jello, so to speak.

There are quite a number of leadership-focused master's degrees, and several master's programs in organization development. What strikes me about them is that, although there are OD courses in the Leadership programs, and vice versa, there seems to be a distinction between them - a separation of sorts - born in the disciplinarity emanating from the prior cultural epoch about which I write. It is almost as if we take for granted that capital-L Leadership in some ways stands apart from the organization, in the sense of the leader of a parade standing out in front of, and distinctly separate from, those marching behind.

Over the past few weeks since I was offered (and accepted) this great opportunity, I have been wrestling with the questions of our nascent program's values, tactility, and worldview; in other words, its ba. What I think will distinguish the program we are developing from others that nominally offer a similar focus is a fundamental philosophy that organizational leadership has no meaning without the context of organization development. By this I mean that contemporary leadership does not stand on top of, in front of, or in any way apart from the uniqueness that is the organization-in-relation, that is, the valence-conceived instance of an organization. Contemporary leadership must be thought of as being embodied and enacted by process-and-people throughout the entire organization among all its member constituencies, integral to its continual emergence and autopoiesis. In this sense, leadership development and organization development are one and the same, enabled by approaches to individual and collective coaching that are not simply tied to sports-metaphor-laden, rah-rah, motivation-of-the-minute. 

We welcome collaborators who feel a passion for this particular philosophical grounding to participate in our program's development (including course development) over the next few months. We will eventually be seeking core faculty, and thereafter (that is, once the new program is accredited) students interested in a very humanistic, relational, and constructionist approach to a Master's degree in Leadership and Organization Development, and Coaching. If you are interested in any aspect of participation - as collaborator, potential faculty, or future student - I invite you to connect.

Let the adventure begin!

Update (12 October 2011):  We are holding a series of Conversation Cafés between now and early November to gather the thoughts and insights from the various constituencies that would participate in, and contribute to, this degree. More information is here.