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.

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