Billions of dollars are spent globally on the development of leaders in organizations on an annual basis. Research suggests that the return on this investment is limited, or at best, difficult to observe. The need for skilled managers and leaders is growing continually, and, while organizations are attempting to close the competency deficits of their managers and leaders, they are simultaneously confronted by increasing competitor activity and ever more educated consumers demanding up-to-the-minute information and world-class service.
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Simultaneously, technology is evolving at a higher ace than ever, leaders are more globally mobile than ever, the search for talent is becoming increasingly difficult and individual leaders have a better understanding of themselves than ever in the history of the employment of leaders by organizations. Despite this global phenomenon, many organizations still make use of leadership development processes that employ models of education created in ancient Greece and consolidated in Europe in the middle ages.
Such educational models are characterized by content-driven processes in which respected subject matter experts, employed by educational institutions, enforce their wisdom on students. These students are deemed effective based on their ability to comply with the learning content. More recent evolutions in this basic model demand from students to internalize learning content and demonstrate such content in the performance of their duties for the benefit of their sponsors.
Despite this incremental improvement, the same basic model still applies: leaders as students are subordinated to the demands of their sponsors through learning content and guided to compliance to the learning process by teachers who hold subject matter expertise. So entrenched has the del become (as indeed is the nature of paradigms) that the very mention of alternative models may appear UN-educational. This author has had the privilege of working with a range of organizations, from companies with global market leadership, to South African listed organizations and government entities.
In engaging with these organizations he has fulfilled two roles: one as internal senior manager with responsibility for leadership development processes, and the other as external consultant and facilitator of leadership development. This work has occurred at all levels, from engaging with Chief Executive Officers, road members and Executive Teams, to senior, middle and junior managers as well as aspiring managers and team leaders. This engagement constitutes the fieldwork as foundation for the research in this thesis.
This author has employed the qualitative research methodologies of Grounded Theory and Ethnography within the context of Mode 2 Knowledge Production to develop the conceptual tools in order to address the need of the leadership development industry for a more effective Moron Monster Thesis 2008 AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT THROUGH SYSTEMIC LEADERSHIP LEARNING The Ad Vinci Institute for Technology Management approach to leadership development.
The theory that has emerged from this research is known as Systemic Leadership Learning. It proposes an integrated approach to leadership development in which the systems of the leader, organization, learning content and facilitator are integrated into a systemic whole. This is done against the background of the integration of three fields of study as reviewed in the literature, namely Leadership, Systems Thinking and Learning, supported by the use of Story.
Following two peer reviews and numerous engagements with a wide range of organizations, the author includes that the leader holds a self-perception of being the supra-system during the learning process. This insight has significant implications for the way in which organizations conceptualize, design, develop, facilitate, assess and evaluate leadership development processes. Most notably, the learning process needs to start with the leader. The learning needs of the leader, as highlighted by a personal and unique story, form the foundation of the learning process.
All other systems involved in the learning process are required to understand the reality of the leader as a means of optimizing the return on investment from he development of leaders. Due to the centrality of the leader as system in the learning process, a multi-dimensional orientation framework is developed that provides a means for both the leader as well as the other systems in the learning process to analyses, interpret and understand the system of the leader.
Within this framework, the organization is viewed as part of the system of the leader. The organization becomes a focus area during periods of professional development for the leader, but does not subordinate the leader as a tabular Rasa recipient of education. The learning content is viewed simply as a tool or enhancing the performance of the leader, while the facilitator is a guide at the service of the leader to ensure personal and professional growth within an organizational context.
Systemic Leadership Learning (SSL) integrates the systems in the learning process left hitherto disjointed and fragmented. Since it is the leader – and not the facilitator, learning content or nebulously defined organization – who is ultimately required to deliver improved performance as a result of learning, SSL presupposes integrity on the part of the leader and allows the leader the requisite supra-system status to ensure optimal learning.
Moron Monster Thesis 2008 AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT THROUGH SYSTEMIC LEADERSHIP LEARNING The Ad Vinci Institute for Technology Management CONVERGENCE: PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER Given the diverse and systemic nature of the proposal in this thesis, it is essential to translate the comprehensive models and frameworks into workable and practical principles and processes that render them user-friendly for industry leaders and leadership development professionals. This is essential since, in the final analysis, this thesis positions itself as a form of Mode 2 Knowledge
Production as outlined in the research methodology, which necessitates industry absorption of the work. At the same time, this author is acutely aware of the risk of employing a reductionism approach characterized simply by analysis in order to achieve a “bottom-line effect” – such an approach would be inherently contradictory to both the qualitative research methodology as well as of the intention of the thesis to promote a systemic approach to the learning process for leaders.
A similar risk lies in designing a “step-by-step” guide, since such a process is almost inevitably a linear one, or at best a decision-tree. This would once again challenge the content validity of this thesis as a proposal for systemic thinking. The very foundation of the thesis is systemic, as it proposes that a systemic appreciation of the learning process, with recognition of the roles and responsibilities of various systems present in this process, creates a holistic learning benefit that is indeed greater than the sum of the parts involved in the process.
It is furthermore the intention of this author – recognizing that the reader will bring a personal, unique system to bear on this work – that leaders ND leadership development practitioners need not employ the full gamut of concepts herein contained, but that they should feel at liberty to use parts of the thesis as it may suit their unique circumstances. This is not to negate the cohesiveness of the tenets of this thesis as a construct, but simply to recognize the realities of learning, the uniqueness of different leaders and the options for interpretation of this thesis.
The dilemma of a systemic reality juxtaposed with the need of industry leaders and development practitioners to follow processes may be resolved by identifying a suitable starting point for the learning process. In SSL, this starting point is an understanding of the learning dynamics within a learning process characterized and guided by the principles of Systems Thinking. To that end, this thesis proposes a theory of learning that merges three central fields of study in leadership development, namely: Systems Thinking, Leadership, and Learning.
While the fields of Leadership and Learning have been merged to some degree in other literature, Systems Thinking has been largely excluded from the design process of learning and where it has been utilized, it has been limited to viewing the organization as system. SSL views the entire learning process as systemic in nature. Within this systemic approach to learning, it is further a key tenet of the thesis that the leader has a self-perception of being the supra-system during the learning situation (whether formal or informal).
The recognition of leaders as systems, indeed as supra-systems in their own perception during learning, is a fundamental tenet for an approach to leadership development based on SSL. It is indeed a prerequisite of SSL that the system of the leader is recognized and understood. In order to understand the leader as system, it is essential that he systemic reality of the leader be recognized. It is this reality that creates the context for the learning needs of the leader.
Such learning needs are defined not by learning curricula, the organization or a facilitator passionate about a field of expertise; they emerge as a result of an in-depth understanding of the system of the leader and the natural evolution of the learning process in which the leader is paramount. The system of the leader is interpreted by means of a number of observed phenomena in SSL including the Entrenchment Curve and the Authority Paradox. These tools help to create an indents understanding of the system of the leader in order to design realistic learning processes that lead to real learning outcomes.
The understanding of the system of the leader is further aided by a multi-dimensional orientation framework that provides insight into the unique reality of the leader. Such an understanding is important not only for the leader himself/herself, but also for the other systems in the learning situation. SSL provides an approach that sees four systems in dynamic interchange in the learning situation, namely: The leader, The organization, The facilitator, and The learning content.
Designers of a learning process based on SSL are required to evaluate each of these systems in order to determine the roles and responsibilities these systems have within the systemic learning process. The organization is responsible to ensure mutual realistic expectations between itself and its leaders and to allow for learning that may not have been predicted before the learning Moe Monster Thesis 2008 AN INTEGRATED APPROACH TO LEADERSHIP process commenced, i. E. The organization is required to allow for the emergent characteristics of the learning situation.
Learning content in itself is also an evolving system, while being simultaneously a system input into the system of the leader. SSL alerts learning designers to the risks of treating learning content and not the leader as the supra-system. Learning content should be sufficiently flexible to allow for the self-organizing system of the leader to display learning that are unique for each leader. The facilitator in SSL is also recognized as a system and has a specific responsibility to understand the systemic nature of the learning process.
The facilitator, while likely passionate about a field of facilitation, is required within SSL to guide the evolution of the system of the leader within the context of the system of the organization. This implies that the facilitator needs to have a deep insight into the systems of leaders as well as of their organizations. In SSL it is incumbent upon the facilitator to employ learning content only as a tool to serve the evolution of the learning process in the interest of the learning needs of the leader.
This may be done by eliciting the unique story of each leader, whether as part of pre-learning or as part of dialogue during the learning process itself. Like the system of the organization, the facilitator may also make use of elements of the multidimensional orientation framework in order to understand the system of the leader in greater depth. The model below shows the integration of the four systems of the Leader, Organization, Facilitator and Learning Content.
It demonstrates the interconnectedness of these systems and sets them within the context of the fields of study of Leadership, Systems Thinking and Learning, supported by the use of Story. In SSL these fields, too, are interconnected, and in addition, each of the fields has an impact on each of the four systems. It is shown in the shape of a molecule, in order to underline the principle of quantum-connectivity and the multidimensional systemic reality of the learning situation as proposed in SSL. Fig. SSL Supra-model With an appreciation of the interdependencies between various systems, SSL thus requires from all these systems to understand the system of the leader and to allow for the self-organization of the learning process, guided by the learning needs of the leader as system. The system of the leader is shown in greater detail in the models below. Figure 2 shows the Multi- emotional Orientation Framework for leaders while Figure 3 shows a System dependency Analysis that explores the dependency between the leader and his/ her environment.
Fig. 2: Multi-dimensional Orientation Framework Fig. 3: System Dependency Analysis Through this integrated approach to leadership development leaders demonstrate learning in the interest of their organizations that is simultaneously true to their own systems. In SSL leaders thus learn in a truly systemic way. The approach connects the systems of the leaders with other systems in a manner that allows for the emergence of systemically relevant learning outcomes.