22 February 2012

Crisis of (non-)Leadership at Toronto City Hall

Yesterday’s decision to oust now-former TTC Chief General Manager, Gary Webster, signals a potentially disastrous new twist in the incumbency of Mayor Rob Ford. Let me state up-front that I’m no fan of the current mayor and most of his policies. I’m also no fan of Mr. Webster’s style of technocratic leadership of the Toronto Transit Commission, nor his brinkmanship and inability to engage appropriately with the Amalgamated Transit Union. But those subjective opinions on the men involved have nothing to do with my deep concern over what this foolhardy decision means for the future of our city.

The firing-without-cause is explained by Councillor (and TTC Commissioner) Frank DiGorgio as follows: “Excellence in bureaucracy isn’t defined like excellence in private enterprise … . Excellence in a bureaucracy … is the ability to put forth the positions that are consistent with those adopted by the mayor.

Sadly, what Mr. DiGorgio describes is not “excellence,” but rather the root of problems in traditional, dysfunctional bureaucracies. These sorts of bureaucracies are the mindless, non-learning organizations that tend to repeat their past mistakes, in which “accountability” is a euphemism for blame and witch-hunts, whose leaders behave like Alice-in-Wonderland Red Queens—the sort of petty tyrants whose only response is “off with their heads” when s/he doesn’t get her or his way. Such bureaucracies operate under the myth that the leader is all-knowing, all-wise, and (at least in the context of the organization) all powerful. Said leader – who necessarily believes this myth – too often suffers under the delusion that afflicted the fabled Emperor whose unfortunate sartorial choices left him considerably exposed for all to see.

In the public sector, the role of staff (so-called bureaucrats), including senior/executive staff, is to provide the subject matter expertise and reasoned analysis that can give good guidance to the elected representatives, so that they can make the types of well-informed decisions the public (supposedly) elected them to make. What we want as citizens is for political considerations to be left out of the complicated and complex analysis of situations, for the circumstances to be presented as fairly and – dare I say it – objectively as possible. It’s the politicians role to add the political dimension, to justify decisions taken when proposed policy is at odds with reasoned analysis, and to ultimately be accountable to the electorate for those decisions. To insist, as Mr. DiGorgio and Councillors Vince Crisanti, Cesar Palacio, Denzil Minnan-Wong and Norm Kelly did, that the role of the civil service is to provide only analysis that conforms with the mayor’s desires and whims is to create a smoke-screen behind which cowardly politicians may hide when decisions are misguided, ill-informed, or simply turn out wrong for the benefit of the city and its citizens.

What Mr. Webster’s principled stand in providing his best analysis and honest opinion did was to say to the (political) Commissioners, “if you want to decide on an alternative course of action after hearing this analysis, I cannot in good conscience provide your cover; you must take the responsibility.” What the (political) Commissioners accomplished yesterday was to put a freezing chill on honest analysis by the municipal civil service. The message is clear: “If your analysis disagrees with the Mayor’s (uninformed-by-facts) opinions, your livelihood is at risk.” A culture of fear-induce sycophants does not a healthy, well-run, thriving city make. Certainly it does not demonstrate Mayor Ford’s vaunted “respect for the taxpayer.”

This is not leadership. This is abdication of responsibility. Sadly, would-be Emperor Ford – sans clothes – will not abdicate his role.

17 February 2012

Curriculum Development for a Masters in Leadership and Organization Development and Coaching

You know it’s working well when you step back, look at the curriculum outline and syllabi you’re creating, and think, “I’d love to take this program and these courses.”

It’s been several months and several great (and intense) conversations among a small group of collaborators. I think it’s time to bring you all up-to-date on the development of our future Master’s degree in Leadership and Organization Development and Coaching at Adler Graduate Professional School. As you might remember, last fall we held three Conversation Cafés to which I invited over forty people from among our various constituencies (potential faculty and students, and professional OD, coaching, and leadership practitioners) to contribute their thoughts, ideas, insights, experience, and wisdom about what should such a program look and feel like. What philosophy and ethos should shape a program that will enable future leaders, OD practitioners, and coaches to contribute significantly and substantially to the complex and immensely challenging environment in which we are now all immersed? The results of those engagements are here, here, and here, and enabled us to draft the learning outcomes of our proposed program:
  1. Savoir3: Referring to Savoir, Savoir Faire, and Savoir Être – Ways of Knowing, Ways of Doing, and Ways of Being. To demonstrably understand and embody the three principles of Savoir3 throughout students’ and graduates learning and practice.
  2. Emerging: To demonstrate and embody principles of self- and organizational emergence and mindful change.
  3. Knowledge Integration: To demonstrably integrate foundational or core knowledge, knowledge created via processes of formal inquiry, and knowledge harvested through active and directed reflection on practical experience in the praxis of leadership, organization development, and workplace-oriented coaching.
  4. Complexity: To demonstrate an ability to help organizations describe, assess, and enable appropriate courses of action in terms of complexity as a guiding model for understanding human dynamics.
  5. Effect-oriented Practice: To develop and demonstrate the capabilities to facilitate individuals and organizational groups towards becoming more effective with respect to navigating intended and desired effects in complex, workplace environments.

Beginning with these learning outcomes for the program, the small group of curriculum development collaborators participated in a facilitation that invited them to brainstorm competencies that we would intend for our graduates to acquire during their journey through the master’s program. We then took the eighty (yes, 80!) competencies and collectively grouped them into emergent themes (using a silent method based on grounded theory), subsequently naming the themes. Then, using curricula and course descriptions from seven other, well-established university programs that offer master’s degrees in either leadership, or OD, or coaching, we sorted their courses into our themes. This enabled us to discover both the gaps in our thinking, and the missing opportunities among other programs—opportunities that we had identified through our process.

Finally, through a series of conversations among the members of our collaboration, we discovered which themes would become courses in their own right, which would meld together, and which better served as threads to be woven throughout the fabric of our master’s degree.

Here is a preliminary outline of the curriculum that we are currently contemplating. Each course would be designed for twelve sessions. Most will comprise nine instructional or content-based seminars, two seminars in which students will present their final work for the course, and one integration seminar. The integration seminar will be a unique feature of our program, one that will set the Adler master’s degree apart from almost every other master’s program. This seminar will be designed to integrate the knowledge from the current course with all of the other knowledge acquired in the program to-date, so that the learning is more holistic and contextualized, rather than distinct and separated by course boundaries. The integration seminars will also include many, if not most, of our faculty so that our professors will understand what is going on in other professors’ courses (the lack of which is a distinct limitation in most university programs elsewhere).

The integration is not limited to course knowledge alone. One of the requirements for graduation, post-thesis, is for completing candidates to conduct “integration and emergence seminars” for incoming students. During these sessions, students near graduation will present their research, their reflections on program experiences (both in-class and from their practicum placements), and most importantly, their reflections on their personal journeys of emerging through their time in the program. Incoming students will be able to directly connect with students at the end to obtain an idea not of where they will end up, but of a possible trajectory for their own learning and development.

The curriculum design is, of course, subject to change as we continue with the development of our program. Nonetheless, it will give you a flavour of what might be coming for those considering graduate education in leadership and organization development and coaching (noting that the courses are not necessarily listed in any particular order):
  • Trajectory Seminar (orientation course)
  • Human Thriving
  • Foundations I: Context of the field
  • Foundations II: Current and contemporary models
  • Foundations III: Emergent thinking, themes, and models
  • Critical Perspectives
  • Complexity: Theory and Application
  • Human and Organizational Ecology
  • High-performing Teams
  • Professional Practice
  • Inquiry I: Methodologies
  • Inquiry II: Methods
  • Practicum I
  • Practicum II
  • Integration and Emergence Seminar (directly connected to Trajectory Seminar)
  • Thesis

If you would love to take this program and these courses (or if you might like to teach some of these courses in this program) I’d love to hear from you.

11 February 2012

Adler Colloquium: Take Me To Your Leaders, March 2 at 18:00

Save the date! On Friday evening, March 2, 2012, from 18:00 to 20:30, I will be leading a colloquium based on my popular keynote, Take Me to Your Leaders: Collaborative leadership and trust. The evening will begin with a talk that explores the notion that it is time to rethink what we mean by leadership in the context of highly collaborative – and highly effective – organizations, followed by an active, participatory experience for all the participants.

Throughout history, the concept of "organization" evolved according to conditions of society at the time. Unquestionably, today's conditions have changed significantly since the Industrial Age model that shaped the 20th century, and thereby shaped management education over the last hundred years. In a contemporary organization, conceived in a world that is ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate, I contend that the role of leadership is no longer to “lead” in a conventional sense (that is, create a vision, execute a mission, provide incentives to keep everyone in line), but to bring people together to create a shared experience in which an alternative future becomes possible. This realization raises a fascinating question: what does it mean to be a leader when it is no longer to lead?

For current and future leaders, and anyone interested in organization development, behaviour, and the psychology of human interactions in workplaces, this colloquium offers new insights, ideas, and inspirations towards re-imagining organizations for the 21st century.

The colloquium will be held at Adler Graduate Professional School, 890 Yonge Street, 9th floor. Pre-registration is requested (and advised). (I will also be giving a brief update on the development of our proposed Master of Leadership and Organization Development and Coaching.)