When I first enrolled in Royal Roads’ Masters of Arts in Leadership program, I felt frustrated because my employer required that I obtain a Master’s degree and was not acknowledging my four undergraduate degrees as sufficient educational achievements to teach on campus. I believed there was no way that this program would make me a better professor and leadership development trainer…Well, shift happens.
This program and the concept of systems thinking has made me a believer. As Senge (2006) stated, “Through learning we re-create ourselves. Through learning, we become able to do something we never were able to do” (p. 13).
My learning throughout this program has changed the way I teach and consult. To the naked eye, it is a subtle shift, but the response has been tremendous.
Before this program, I was disseminating my knowledge to my students. My lessons were interactive, dynamic and entertaining; however, the flow of information was moving from me to them.
In my own training business, I was providing my recommendations to my clients on how they should solve their challenges and then guiding them through their transitions. My recommendations were filled with passion and inspired their teams to unleash their potential and achieve more; but again, my focus was on delivering my recommendations to my clients.
My big “a-ha” moment occurred when researching literature for my thesis: Creating a Respectful Learning and Working Environment. Miller and Pedro (2006) gave some suggestions to educators for managing diversity and respecting differences:
Often, teachers work in schools with populations that are very different from what they encountered as they were developing. Teachers need to be well read, open to new people and cultural experiences, as well as reflective. They must approach situations from a base knowledge and understanding. When teachers understand the community surrounding the school and the demands on the lives of the children they teach, they will be more respectful of the burdens some children face each day. (p. 295)
That quote made me realize that I needed to understand what my students must be feeling as I instruct them. All of a sudden, I began making a million different connections and linkages with the literature and learning I had read and experienced over the last two years.
I started to shift my focus off my own experience, and onto them. I started to think about the demands being put on the students – school, work, family, religion, extracurricular activities, etc.
The same holds true for my clients. I started to think of the pressure and demands put upon their teams – producing more with fewer resources. “My objective, I keep reminding myself as I pant to keep up with the change in a new era, is not to diagnose and heal sickness, but to help people find dignity, meaning, and community in work” (Weisbord, 2004, p. 262). The moment I start thinking from a systems perspective, my strategy and practice shifted.
Now whether I am instructing or training, I plan my delivery with the lives of my audience in mind.
Exemplary leaders do not place themselves at the center: they place others there. They do not seek the attention of people; they give it to others. They do not focus on satisfying their own aims and desires; they look for ways to respond to the needs and interests of their constituents. (Kouzes & Posner, 2010, p. 138)
When planning a lesson or a meeting with a client, I now think to myself, what is the most effective way to deliver this content, given “the everyday stresses and strains of [their] organizational [or university] life” (Bolton, 2005, pp. 2-3), so that they will be able to best receive the information?
As Stone, Heen, and Patton (1999) stated, “Wherever you want to go, understanding – imagining yourself in the other person’s story – has got to be your first step. Before you can figure out how to move forward, you need to understand where you are” (p. 43).
Moving forward, I plan to continue to teach and coach with empathy and apply systems theory to my teaching and consulting practice.
Bolton, S. (2005). Emotion management in the workplace. Gordonsville, VA: Palgrave Macmillan.
Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2010). The truth about leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Miller, R., & Pedro, J. (2006). Creating respectful classroom environments. Early Childhood Education Journal, 33(5), 293–299. doi:10.1007/s10643-006-0091-1
Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Stone, D., Patton, B., & Heen, S. (1999). Difficult conversations: How to discuss what matters most. Toronto, ON: Penguin Books.
Weisbord, M. (2004). Productive workplaces revisited: Dignity, meaning and community in the 21st century. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.