Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Global Leadership Development: A Lived Inquiry

Even since I was asked to design and teach a course in the MA in Leadership Program at Saint Mary's College in 2002 entitled, Global Contexts for 21st Century Leadership, I have been exploring the topic of global leadership and how to develop it in people. This exploration is an example of a lived inquiry. Lived inquiry is a term borrowed from John Heron that represents the process of integrating learning and inquiry in the midst of one’s everyday practice. In a lived inquiry, everyday action and experience, such as teaching a course, interactions with people, even reading a book, becomes both a source of learning and expression of one’s learning.  In this way, one learns through everyday action, not just in formal learning situations.

In the case of my ongoing lived inquiry in global leadership development, what I have learned over the past eight years gets applied in my courses and in my interactions and leadership development work with people working in today’s global world.  And equally important, these experiences become sources for deeper learning. Key to lived inquiry is a practice of reflection and engaging different ways of making meaning of that experience. In other words learning is ongoing, e.g. in perpetual beta. In this way the question of what is global leadership and how best to develop it in people keeps getting asked, which seems to be appropriate for such a complex and dynamic topic.

Just this past October, I presented a paper entitled Global Leadership--A Perspective in Progress at the 12th Annual International Leadership Association Conference in Boston, Massachusetts. The paper focused on what I had learned from the experience of teaching the course Global Contexts for 21st Century Leadership. In this course students are introduced to two generative maps.

The first is complex systems theory (CST) in the first half, and in the last half this theory is applied to organizational life and leadership, and to the topic of globalization, emphasizing the global economy, and its interrelationships with the global ecology and culture.   CST provides a conceptual framework for understanding the global reality in new and generative ways.  It allows people from across a political spectrum, and from a variety of sectors to engage this very complex and highly contested phenomenon in new and generative ways. In other words, it provides a complex map to better understand and navigate this rather complex territory.  Here are some examples of what the students learned from employing CST:

“The thought that nothing exists in isolation…and it reminds me that whether I feel it or not, I am a living part of many networks.”

“Whereas it is easier to form an opinion about globalization when it's causes and affects are fragmented and isolated…, if we are to learn anything from systems thinking it is that everything is interdependent…”

“I am much more aware of something larger than myself.”

Even though CST is introduced as a map for making sense of the complex world out there, I think one can see from the quotes above that the results of this newly acquired cognitive framework, expands one’s consciousness as well. In my next  post, I will present the second map discussed in the paper, one that helps students make sense of, and navigate, the complex reality in here. 

So in thinking about the leadership development, and global leadership development in particular, as an ongoing lived inquiry, everyone's experience and learning becomes useful sources of data.  Please share your thoughts and experiences on the question of what is global leadership and how should it be developed?

Monday, June 21, 2010

What Students Have Taught Me About Leadership

I started this blog to share my thoughts and insights from an inquiry, which began over ten years ago when I began teaching leadership, initially at the California Institute of Integral Studies, and then becoming much more robust when I joined the M.A. in Leadership program at Saint Mary’s College in 2002. This inquiry centers on the questions of: what is an understanding and practice of leadership reflective of, and responsive to the realities of the 21st century? And how can it best be developed and practiced?

Over the years I have engaged in lots of reading, research, writing, participation in workshops, seminars and programs; and many thoughtful, inspired and passionate conversations with colleagues and practitioners worldwide. Over the past month or so I have been steeped in some in-depth learning on leadership prompted by launching dissertation research project in leadership, and by attending The Art and Practice of Leadership Development program at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Over the next few weeks I will share some of my learning generated from these two activities.

But it is what I have learned from my interaction with students over the past ten years that has informed me the most in this inquiry, and one thing that I have learned from them is what continues to animate this ongoing inquiry in leadership, and what I want to share in this post.

The students in the Leadership Studies Programs at Saint Mary's College are all working professionals each come from a variety of backgrounds, sectors, industries, roles, and levels of responsibility. This diversity along with their particular needs, interests, commitments, experiences, questions, challenges, insights, and ways of applying their learning, has shaped much of the way I respond to the above-mentioned questions. From them I have learned that key to understanding and practicing leadership in the 21st century is that leadership needs to be both transcendent to and immanent in the particular setting, circumstance, problem, or kind of work in play.

With this in mind, I have found that too much of leadership theory is colored by specific disciplinary, cultural, and practice contexts, thus limiting its relevance and application across the range of contexts in which it is enacted. For example, leadership in the context of community organizing will look different than in the context of executive management in corporation business enterprises. So why is there so much attention on leadership lesions from C-level executives? And why is leadership so often conflated with the exercise of authority and management? Certainly, there are some important intersections, but too little attention seems to be paid to what is distinct about leadership so the intersections are best understood and leveraged.

When exploring the nature of leadership for our times, I find it much more useful when a variety of perspectives and voices on leadership are present. The recent blog series from the Harvard Business Review on Imagining the Future of Leadershipand the blog On Leadership in the Washington Post are two good examples of offering this plurality of perspectives.

And it has been 350 or so students with whom I have been privileged to work over the past ten years that has provided me with a full spectrum of perspectives, which has contributed mightily to the way I understand the nature of leadership for the 21st century. Their experience and interests help me see that:
  1. Leadership is indeed viable dimension of intentional human enterprises;
  2. It can indeed bring added value and fortify the work of managing, teaching, organizing, governing, administering, partnering, or parenting;
  3. And it must work across the various contexts in which one lives and works.
Click here to hear some students tell their stories

So the question that I am particularly interested in hearing from others is: what are characteristics of leadership are common to all social enterprises, yet can be applied to any one context and to serve the particularities of that context? I welcome your thoughts on this particular question or any part of the perspective offered here.

Up next, what The Art and Practice of Leadership Development brought to my understanding of the nature of leadership for the 21st century.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

What is distinct about Leadership?

As a leadership educator I am in a lot of conversations on leadership, both in person and online. I continue to be quite surprised that in spite of a lot of attention being paid to the concept of leadership by academics, professionals, and in the media, its meaning continues to be rather ambiguous and amorphous. From these conversations, the vast majority of people believe leadership to be needed in this world, and worth developing. Yet, very few seem to agree on what leadership is. Surprisingly, many believe that work to define it will undermine effective practice of it.

As a leadership educator, I am convinced that to more effectively develop leadership capacity, we must make our understanding of it more explicit. My intention here is to offer some thoughts on leadership to spark conversation on what is distinctive about leadership, and what is worth developing.

People seem to use the term leadership to represent a dimension of intentional social activity that fulfills individual and collective “reasons to be.” In many conversations, I notice that leadership is often used alongside, or interchangeably with other important activities in which people engage on a day to day basis to fulfill our aspirations as human beings--parenting, teaching, governing, counseling, managing, to name a few. Many people seem to talk about managing as leadership, governing as leadership, educating as leadership. To use the term leadership interchangeably with these other activities runs the risk of obscuring what is unique and special to that particular activity. For example, parenting is a very sacred, worthy, and complex process. If we are to include leadership as part of parenting, then I think it should be adding something distinctive to it. Otherwise, why employ the term leadership?

So what is distinctive about leadership, which when it gets added to other human activities, it brings added value and does not displace the uniqueness and complexity of these various activities? It occurs to me that incorporating leadership into existing human activities, such as parenting, managing, organizing, etc., should be that which fortifies or enhances it in some way. In other words, leadership is not a separate activity but an added value activity--a way of perceiving and attending to the larger process in which the specific activity is embedded, and from which the activity receives added benefits. Bringing leadership to such things as parenting and managing is analogous to creating optimal conditions for growing food--building up the nutrient quality of the soil, planting the proper varietal for a particular climate, making sure physical layout of the garden ensures sunlight and wind protection. The unique processes involved in the growth of the plant or tree are all present but food production and its nutritious value is fortified by the optimal conditions present.

I am curious to know what you think of this idea that leadership does not occupy the same logical category of other human activities such as parenting, managing and teaching. What about the idea that leadership is about fortifying these activities? And what do you think of the idea that leadership adds value by focusing on creating optimal conditions for these activities, which in turn enhances the results of these activities. Do you have examples of this way of making meaning of leadership? And lastly, if we are to view leadership in this way, what do you think should be developed in people?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Re-imagining Leadership

This past week I participated in two conferences, one on human resources, HR West, and the other on social media technology's potential role in cultivating wisdom, Wisdom 2.0. In some ways they could not have been more different, and in other ways they were remarkably similar. It is the similarities that interest me. Here are four similarities that stand out.

1. Both conferences provided generative and stimulating conversations and connections with people who care deeply about their work and life.
2. Both encouraged a sincere and perhaps renewed focus on people, relationships and connections as central activities in social enterprises.
3. Both encouraged us to use social media technologies to facilitate and amplified these relationships and connections through social media technologies.
4. And both referenced leadership in predominately conventional terms--leadership is what individual leaders do in positions or roles of authority.

Numbers 1- 3 were the really enlivening parts of both conferences, number 4 was the disappointing part. Actually, I expected a retro view of leadership at the HR conference, but I did not expect it at the Wisdom 2.0 conference. Social media technology is the ultimate exemplar of how living systems work. So I thought those in the social media world would have a systems or networked view of leadership. Business enterprises, social change organizations, communities, and teams are all instances of living systems, in which information and meaning and intelligence emerge from energy/matter distributed through networks of interactivity and connection. From this perspective relationships, coherence and emergence are the “stuff” of the living world.

Assuming leadership is a dimension of social life, which I do--the intrinsic movement toward intentional change, then I would think it would get the same conceptualization by social media technophiles that they give to other facets of social life like intelligence or wisdom. If it did, then leadership would be conceived as what emerges from the interactions, relationships, connections, and creativity of the network itself, not the ideas, authority, or behaviors on any one person in it.

With this in mind, two questions follow. What is the role of the manager or designated leader? And how do you develop leadership capacity?

Whether the CEO or the first line supervisor, managers create the conditions for leadership to occur in the system or network. They do this through promoting interaction, relationships, shared meaning, creativity, and emergence among all stakeholders.

And one develops leadership capacity by encouraging and providing the resources for people to expand consciousness and develop personhood. This both contributes to, and is informed by, the collaborative work mentioned above.

Oh and by the way this is very old news. A relational, networked and systems view of life has been a feature of human consciousness for most of our existence and central to most societies throughout the globe, such as First Nation peoples, Asian and African civilizations, and medieval Europe, as well as countercultural groups existing in the margins of the West. It is the trance of modernity and the industrial era, which makes it seem to many people that this stuff is new. Certainly, its expression in today’s technology is. But today’s neuroscience, complexity and chaos science, and other scientific theories which highlights reality as interconnected are but footnotes to the accumulative wisdom and knowledge of many peoples in many eras. It is nice to have corroborated but it is not a necessary condition to put it into practice.

Sorry if this feels like a rant, but the work to re-imagine what leadership is a not as far along as I thought last week. Love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, April 26, 2010

What kind of leadership skills are we talking about?

These days there sure is a lot of focus on developing leadership skills. But what kind of skills are leadership skills? Skills are simply a capacity to do something well. It is an action one takes that accomplishes something. Identifying leadership skills depends on one's understanding of leadership.

If leadership is understood as the exercise of authority, getting others to do what "the leader" wants, then these skills will be different from the skills derived from an understanding of leadership that is more systemic and influence based.

As a practitioner and educator in leadership, I have come to make sense of leadership in terms of various world-views. In other words, different leadership theories and perspectives reflect different world-views people hold. World-views are a dimension of human consciousness and function as large cognitive structures which people, individually and collectively, make sense of the world and guide their actions in it.

Leadership theories that are individualistic, authority-based, focused on quantifiable, predetermined results, which followed from predetermined organizational objectives fit into a particular world-view. Joseph Rost (1991) refers to this as an industrial paradigm of leadership and Marion and Uhl-Bien (2007) refer to this perspective of leadership in terms of a bureaucratic paradigm of leadership.

Leadership theories that are more systemic and collaborative in nature, are more influence and relationship based, focused more on making progress in the direction of mutually derived purposes, while responsive to the dynamic and complex nature of organizational life, are part of a different world-view. Referred to by Rost (1991) as a post-industrial paradigm of leadership and by Marion and Uhl-Bien (2007) as a complexity paradigm of leadership, this world-view tends to be more a more complex world-view.

These two world-views outlined are not mutually exclusive, the more complex includes yet transcends, the less complex. An understanding and practice in a more complex world-view of leadership allow one to flex into less complex one when needed.

Back to leadership skills, it follows that different world-views of leadership require different kinds of leadership skills. So what do you think these are? What kind of skills are part of the industrial or bureaucratic paradigm, and which are needed for a post-industrial or complexity paradigm?


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

What "develops" in leadership development?

I have become very interested in this question. I should be since leadership development is my "business." I hope to pique other's interest in this question as well. What do you think should get developed in leadership development?

Here are some of my thoughts on this today. I suppose the simple answer is that leadership development programs develop skills and capacities in people. But in what ways? To answer to this question seems dependent on how one understands leadership. If leadership is that which leaders do or should do, in other words, the styles, behavors, traits of individuals in their roles exercising authority with subordinates (followers), in service of predetermined goals and objectives, then development involves skills to be more effective in one role, and more akin to being a good manager or supervisor.

But if leadership is understood to be something more--beyond role, involving leading AND following on the part of all participants, based in influence not authority, emerging from the relationships in any social network, in service of the larger "reason to be" then development it involves a different set of skills or capacities. While this sketch of two possible perspectives of leadership may seem overly simplistic, I think you get the picture.

Different perspectives of leadership informs what gets attention in leadership development. Even though both perspectives may include interpersonal skills, there are differences in the complexity of these skills in the first versus the second. For example, in the first perspective, these skills may be limited to effectively communicate goals, directions, and relevant information. They may also focus on getting others to follow directions--useful skills in some contexts such as field operations in emergency management.

In the second perspective, interpersonal skills may include the above, but also focus on such things as trust, building social capital, working with differences, and finding common ground. Communication is two way, involving listening as well as expression. When a group is working with what Heifetz and Linksy call adaptive challenges rather then technical ones, collaboration and shared inquiry are required to solve problems in which there are no known solutions.

In this example, different perspectives of leadership tend to focus on different skills or different skill levels. But since leadership is fundamentally about seeking meaningful change in any kind of intentional social activity, regardless of the perspective leadership development is essentially about developing people. In the Leadership Studies Programs here at Saint Mary's College, we pay a lot of attention to the whole person focusing on developing a wide range of skills and capacities in people, so that they can be effective in the settings and contexts in which they work and live.

One of the best resources for learning more about how developing people being the center of leadership development is the Center for Creative Leadership. Check out the blog Leading Effectively for some really intelligent writing on the subject.

I have only scratched the surface of this topic, I would be very interested in hearing from what you have to say about the question "What 'develops' in leadership development?"

Saturday, April 17, 2010

What is 21st Century Leadership?

I started this blog in 2009 to explore with an understanding and practice of leadership for the 21st century with good intentions of posting regularly. Thirteen months later I am back with renewed commitment to foster a conversation of what kind of leadership is needed in our world today. While the invitation still stands, to share your ideas, questions, experiences, and stories here about leadership in the 21st century, I realize there is plenty for me to contribute to this exploration.

For one, I have been active thinking and writing about leadership and leadership development, particularly in what I have been calling 21st Century Leadership. Not meant to be another theory or kind of leadership but a term intended to represent an inquiry into the kind of leadership needed for today's world, and how to develop in people and the social organizations to which they belong. There are others who use the phrase "leadership for the 21st century" or "twenty first century leadership." One notable example is a leadership program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

Here in our MA in Leadership program at Saint Mary's College we have been working with this phrase since our inception in 2001. Moved by the call from Joseph Rost in his 1991 book "Leadership for the Twenty-first Century" to develop leadership capacity in an expanded paradigm of leadership, our program was founded. For past eight years we have not only sought to educate people in such a leadership but also to inquire into how to understand and practice it.

Here is how I describe 21st Century Leadership:

Broadly speaking, leadership can be viewed as our individual and collective response to change the world for the better. And given today’s highly interdependent world, full of enormous complexity, accelerating change, and unforeseen and unprecedented events, an understanding and practice of leadership responsive to this world is needed.

21st Century Leadership is a perspective of leadership intended to respond to the unique challenges and opportunities of today’s world. Reflective of an expanded paradigm of leadership, it draws upon and integrates theories and practices from a wide range of disciplines and traditions to foster practical knowledge and transformative change in service of the world.

The expression of this contemporary perspective of leadership incorporates a full spectrum of values, and fosters a wide range of capacities, competencies, and skills, which are enacted in the various spheres of life in context-specific ways. These include but are not limited to: critical, creative and systems thinking, self-awareness, communication and dialogue, social and cultural intelligence, and facilitation of team and collaborative processes. To develop this perspective of leadership development both an inward and outward orientation is required involving the whole person engaged with the whole system, and involves the whole person and the whole system.

More than the behaviors, traits and styles of individuals, 21st Century Leadership views leadership as a property of any social network. Not solely the domain of those “in charge, ” leadership is something in which everyone participates. While complementing management and administrative functions, leadership is a distinct dimension of organizational life, and its development requires its own focus of attention.

In summary, 21st Century Leadership is a multidimensional and integrative view of leadership that is based in relationships. Through shared purposes and aspirations it brings forward new ways of being, knowing and doing, respecting the developmental nature of the human life. It is oriented toward being inclusive, collaborative, and of service, to individuals, the social good, and ecological sustainability.

Next post: what actually gets developed in leadership development?