Back when I was a strategic consultant, my firm was hired to help companies tackle organizational issues. Many consultants immediately listen to an organization’s challenges and feel it is their responsibility and role to come up with appropriate recommendations to solve their organizational problems. “All of us sometimes construct our own psychic prisons and then lock ourselves in. When we don’t know what to do, we do more of what we know” (Bolman & Deal, 208, p. 8).
One of the biggest learning experiences throughout my consulting career has been modeled after the famous Chinese Proverb, “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime” (Chinese Proverb, as cited in The Quotations Page, 2013, para. 1).
When one locks themselves in the role of “consultant” and only gives recommendations without involving the client, one does not open themselves up to the role of researcher and empower their clients to learn how to feed themselves for a lifetime.
True organizational change happens when its members are involved in the process, and not when an outside consultant is attempting to do the change for them. “A quality movie requires systemic participation in the snapshot. People need to describe their own gaps, make their own maps, find their own variances, instead of having consultants do it for them” (Weisbord, 2004, p. 260).
The true essence of community-based action research is involving the participants impacted by the challenge to help develop strategies and processes to foster change. Stringer (2007) stated, the very spirit of “community-based action research works on the assumption; therefore that all stakeholder – those whose lives are affected by the problem under study – should be engaged in the process of investigation” (p. 11).
In order to influence change, one needs to include and understand the participant’s lived experiences. Taking a litmus test of people’s perceptions, thoughts, and ideas of the challenges they are facing is essential. One needs to understand the current culture and structure of the organization, as well as the relationships within the organization. Short (1998) suggested: “Your organization is made up of your relationships and the very specific interactions you have with specific individuals, in specific contexts, over specific issues. You and those with whom you interact define what your organization is – and the limits of what you can do and become. These interactions are the ‘genetic code’ for our organization, and they contain the information you need to learn” (p. 17).
True organizational change occurs when its community members are involved. I understand the importance of cohesiveness and togetherness in making a change. Therefore, when conducting action research for my clients, I include all stakeholder groups involved in and impacted, to participate. “Collaborative exploration helps practitioner, agency workers, client groups, and other stakeholding parties to develop increasingly sophisticated understandings of the problems and issues that confront them” (Stringer, 2007, p. 11). The entire organization needs to be all in this together, to effectively make a change.
I engage and induce a sense of collegial ownership, by providing an opportunity for the organizational community to give positive input and feedforward. “No leader ever got anything extraordinary done without the talent and support of others. Leadership is a team sport, and you need to engage others in the cause” (Kouzes & Posner, 2010, pp. xxi-xxiv).
I continue to translate this learning into practice by bringing my students’ or clients’ community together and collaboratively defining solutions to their challenges. I used to think that it was my job to provide the right answers to both my students and my clients. Now, I realize that my job is to ask the right questions – to coach. I have learned that by asking open-ended, thought-provoking questions, one can unearth a vast ray of solutions for themselves. I have learned the power and benefits of actively listening to others, suspending my own assumptions and judgments, and letting others find the solutions that are inside them. As I have changed, so has my teaching and consulting practices. As Claxton (2007) stated, “it may be nearly impossible for us to bring about any important change in a system or organization without changing ourselves” (p. 227).
As I reflect and look back on my leadership growth, I remember a quote from Henry David Thoreau, “Things do not change; we change” (Thoreau, as cited in Brainyquote, 2011, para. 1). I am proud of the internal and external changes I have made in my professional career. As Senge (2006) stated, “People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never ‘arrive’…But personal mastery is not something you possess. It is a process. It is a lifelong discipline” (pp. 132-133). My personal leadership growth has not been completed; it is a journey, not a destination.
What is one of the biggest changes you have made in your career? What triggered you to make such a change?
Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. (2008). Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. San Fransisco: Jossey-Bass.
Brainyquote. (2011). Henry David Thoreau quotes. Retrieved from http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_change3.html
Claxton, C. (2007). Placing Our Assumptions at Risk: Pathway to Changing the Culture of the Community College. Community College Journal Of Research & Practice, 31(3), 217-229. doi:10.1080/10668920600859731
Kouzes, J., & Posner, B. (2010). The truth about leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Senge, P. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York, NY: Doubleday.
Short, R. R. (1998). Learning in relationship: Foundations for personal and professional success. Bellevue: Learning in Action Technologies, Inc.
Stringer, E. T. (2007). Action research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
The Quotations Page. (2013). Chinese Proverb quotes. Retrieved from http://www.quotationspage.com/quote/2279.html
Weisbord, M. (2004). Productive workplaces revisited: Dignity, meaning and community in the 21st century. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.