Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Shifts: Doing action research in your own organization

One of the very significant shifts in recent decades has been the willingness to embrace experience in knowing. In contrast to “I think therefore I am,” has been the pursuit of “We experience, therefore we grow.”

This has huge implications for being human, for being Christian, for education. This serves to introduce a new book I will be blog reviewing: Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization. It is the type of book that frames and names much about the new missional masters we’re piloting in 2011.

Action research is defined as “an approach to research which aims at both taking action and creating knowledge or theory about that action.” (ix) It is interested not only in individual head knowledge, but in actions and knowledge.

It assumes a spiral approach to life and learning, in which planning leads to action which leads to reflection which leads to planning … and so on. It assumes collaboration, in that what is being studied are themselves active in the study process. It assumes we are all insiders of many systems. This brings us knowledge and the invitation to action.

The desire to be involved in or to lead radical change involves high hassle and high vulnerability, realistic expectations, tolerance, humility, self-giving, self-containment and an ability to learn. Insider action research is an exciting, demanding and invigorating prospect that contributes considerably to researchers’ own learning and contributes to the development of the systems in which we work and live and with which we have affiliations. (xi)

Which surely is what much Christian research and education should be about? (Hence the missional masters, in which leaders use their own context as a place for learning and growth. And this is deemed a place which deserves post-graduate “action-research”.) It should invite us to change, it should expect our churches and our communities to grow and change!

This of course raises a complex range of issues, which the book seeks to explore and about which I will blog in coming weeks.

I would place Doing Action Research in Your Own Organization as a key text alongside Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development which I have been summarising on this blog throughout the year. Put them both together and you have a framework for growing and developing your leadership within your own context and communities, in a way that can advance academic rigour.

Posted by steve at 09:00 AM

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

spirituality of change leaders

A fascinating list of suggestions, almost a spirituality, for change leaders (“Rules of thumb for change agents”, a chapter by Shepard in Organization Development Classics, Jossey-Bass, 1997.)

  • Stay alive – care for yourself and keep a life
  • Start where the system is – empathy for the group and the people
  • Look for green zones – places of promise
  • Innovation is as simple as a good idea, initiative and a few friends – work with the willing
  • Celebrate well – build in lots of success milestones
  • Light many fires – utilise the complexity of any group by seeking movement in as many places as possible
  • Keep optimistic – with a focus on the better future

I note the list after sitting with a number of groups in the last few days who are considering mission and are faced with change.

It certainly resonated with my Opawa experience, particularly the look for green zones (for more on leadership and green zones you could try here), simplicity of innovation and light many fires. (And in hindsight, at Opawa we could have celebrated more).

And it sits well alongside Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development, which I have been slowly reading and summarising this year. (For the chapter summaries to date: Chapter one here. Chapter two is here. Chapter three is here. Chapter four is here. Chapter five is here. Chapter six is here. Chapter seven is here)

Posted by steve at 08:51 AM

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

developing change leaders book review – Ch 7 Developmental approaches

I’m speaking to a group of church leaders on Thursday on the topic of mission as innovation, and again in a few weeks to another group on change, so it’s back to a book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. (For the review to date: Chapter one here. Chapter two is here. Chapter three is here. Chapter four is here. Chapter five is here. Chapter six is here)

First, great (amazing really) to see an opening quote (from Dance of Leadership, The: The Call for Soul in 21st Century Leadership, by Kiwi author, Peter Cammock.

Leadership is a dance, in which leaders and followers jointly respond to the rhythm and call of a particular social context, within which leaders draw from deep wells of collective experience and energy, to engage followers around transforming visions of change and lead them in the collective creation of compelling futures.

This suggests a focus away from leader-centric models of leadership, to the relational aspects of collective change leadership. Collins is cited, that great leaders have two essential dimensions – humilty and persistence.

Then comes a fascinating section (165-173) naming ways leaders can develop. Things like move to a foreign culture, shadow an arbitrator, become a volunteer.

This is followed by a number of case studies of leadership development within organisations. Let me take one, that of developing emerging leaders in the New Zealand public sector. This involved a development centre and a leadership program. The focus was based around a set of leadership competencies. The focus was an experiential learning through peer challenge, self-revelation and team learning in a safe environment.

Each person developed a portfolio, to document their learning over 9 months through the following stages.

  • Stage 1 involved identifying prior leadership experience
  • Stage 2 involved some input (a 1 week course) combined with personal goal setting around “lever” activity (self-awareness, learning as a leader, values and beliefs, interpersonal intelligence, communication skills, behaviour modeling)
  • Stage 3 involved leading a strategic change project

I can’t help putting all this alongside the leadership training I experienced, which was mainly lectures on the importance of vision and how it worked in a large church.

I begin to reflect that some of the “lever” activities are to some extent embedded in some dimensions of ministerial training, but need to be made more explicit and clear. I see the challenge of the modernist mindset that equates teaching with content rather than learning.  I see echoes between what we hope to do with our new Innovation stream in the new Bachelor of Ministry, especially Stage 1, the Introduction to Formation topic and Stage 3, the invitation into a practical project over the course of the training. I wonder what it would look like for a denomination to do this with their existing ministers and to think about the Missional Church Leadership course I offer, and did offer to ministers in New Zealand. What was the fruit and what changes could be made?

Posted by steve at 02:46 PM

Thursday, June 24, 2010

developing change leaders book review – Ch 6 The evolution of a change leader

A book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs, Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. Chapter one here. Chapter two is here. Chapter three is here. Chapter four is here. Chapter five is here.

Becoming an effective change leader takes time and requires change in the leader themselves. It begins with reflective practise. While authoritarian command type leaders are most appealing in a crisis (page 121), the most appropriate skills are those of questioning and reflection.

Research on change leaders show they hardly ever grow by formal development. Rather, they grow through things like watching leaders, affirmation of their own ability in the midst of conflict, first-hand experiences of the mis/use of power, leadership opportunities and facilitated reflection on their lived experience. This comes best through coaching. This should also include coaching others, due to the giving of compassion becoming a personal healing agency.

The book then summarises 10 dynamic capabilities for change leaders as follows:

1 – Develop decision making – specifically the ability to wait and see, keep an open mind and be comfortable with contradictions. Central to this is the ability to inquire, to accept that you are not the expert and that someone in your team may have a better insight.

2 – Access capability from across the team

3 – Become a co-creator of a learning culture

4 – Combine future-sensemaking with strategic thinking – digging deeper, reading widely, in a desire to appreciate the system and not just the events.

5 – Develop ‘total’ leadership – including authenticity, integrity and experimentation, at all levels of a person’s life

6 – Develop competency to work in diverse cultures

7 – Develop 1-1 coaching skills – eg micro-skills of building rapport, active listening, attention, sensitivity.

8 – Develop 1-many skills – eg micro-skills of dialogue, facilitation, process consulting, because leadership is about responding to real lived relationships.

9 – Emotional intelligence including self-awareness, emotional resilience, sensitivity, influence, intuition and conscientiousness.

10- Dialogue on performance.

The next 2 chapters set out to explore how to develop these capabilities. In the meantime, take some time to reflect on a change leader you admire. In what ways were these capacities in evidence?

Posted by steve at 06:14 PM

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

developing change leaders book review – Ch 5 Building a Change Leadership Culture

A book review of Paul Aitken and Malcolm Higgs, Developing Change Leaders: The principles and practices of change leadership development. Chapter one here. Chapter two is here. Chapter three is here. Chapter four is here.

“we need to depersonalise and decentre the leadership concept, so that we begin to perceive leadership as a co-operative or collective enterprise.” (93-93, quoting Bate, 1994, 242).

This is a crucial chapter, providing a framework by which to develop change leaders. This chapter explores the shift from “I” to “we”; from individual change managers to “leadership culture.” It calls for a “walk the talk” in which leaders make clear the links between what they do and their underlying values. “Whilst heroes can carry the day in times of crisis, building a sustainable culture of innovation, excellence and achievement requires a collective and distributed, as opposed to individualised and hierarchical, leadership mind-set and approach.” (103)

Research into “leadership culture” is rare, with a lack of clarity about how values of individual leaders translate into action. How to influence a culture? There are many options, including directing attention to priorities, reacting to crisis, creating formal statements, telling stories, symbolic acts, design of work facilities and processes, rewards and sanctions, methods of decision-making. But which to use and when? They suggest a mix of the following (112):

  • role model the future, every day and in every way
  • foster understanding of changed expectations and their purposes
  • find and develop the ‘new way’ values, capabilities and behaviours
  • reinforce future state with formal and informal culture signals

This includes some practical steps

  • appreciate that change is complex. It must be embedded in behaviours and run across the organisation, not top-down
  • make modelling a priority
  • build in feedback loops (this is critical including “experimental, case study and real life observation of leadership” (114)
  • build team by creating an open table in which to discuss the real values of the organisation
  • creating a culture development plan
  • identifying key behaviours that have the best chance of making a difference
  • seeking out and developing change leaders and followers who represent your future

The more I read this book, the more impressed I am. The mix of research, concise summaries, diagrams and practical examples is appealing. The use of a strong values basis makes it much more likely to transfer to religious contexts. I suspect it will provide a fascinating way to discuss leadership development ie training of Christian ministers.

Posted by steve at 11:55 AM