Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

Leadership Can Be Taught by Sharon Parks – A Proactive Report

The nature of a proactive report is that you go into the book with a few questions that you hope to answer.  It starts with an overview of the book, then a set of questions and finishes with a summary and synthesis.  So here are my thoughts on Leadership Can Be Taught.

Sharon Parks in Leadership Can be Taught takes us into Ronald Heifetz classroom on Leadership at Harvard’s Business school, to learn a new approach to training leaders , case-in-point teaching and learning.   Because we live in a world of increasing complexity and rapid change, learning leadership must go beyond the conventional “teaching is telling” mode of learning.  Parks in this book helps to clarify how the case-in-point method of teaching goes beyond teaching knowledge, but helps to “prepare people to exercise the judgment and skill needed to bring that knowledge into the intricate systems of relationships that constitute the dynamic world of practice (5).”

Proactive Questions
1.  What is the framework or four critical distinctions that this approach rests upon?

  • Authority Verses Leadership – The functions of authority include “providing orientation and direction, setting norms, resolving conflict, and, when necessary, providing protection (9); while leadership is about “mobilizing people… to address their toughest problems” (9) which will require adaptive change.
  • Technical Problems Verses Adaptive Challenges – technical problems are ones that are solved with current knowledge and skills, where as adaptive challenges or “swamp issues” call for “changes of heart and mind – the transformation of long-standing habits and deeply held assumptions and values” (10).
  • Power Verses Progress – “When leadership is understood as an activity – the activity of making progress on adaptive challenges – there is less attention to be paid to the transactions of power and influence and more attention given to the question of whether or not progress is being made on swamp issues” (10).
  • Personality Verses Presence – when leadership is about making progress with adaptive issues, charisma and personality are not the defining realities of leadership, rather it is “the quality of one’s capacity to be fully present, comprehend what is happening, hold steady in the field of action, and make choices regarding when and how to intervene from within the social group in ways that help the group to make progress on swamp issues” (11).

2.  Describe the case-in-point teaching and learning method.
At the heart of this approach is creating an environment similar to the environments that the students will be working in, ones that are chaotic, where the primary lesson is to help people understand how adaptive leadership works by actually experiencing it “in the moment.”  Each class is different, because the lessons to be learned are developed by the actual class and the issues they present in the moment of learning.  They are taught the skills of getting on the dance floor and standing in the balcony as well as how to learn from leadership failures in real time.  The classroom, small groups and other learning spaces are flipped inside out, so that people can better understand themselves by reflecting on how they are interacting in each of these different spheres.

3.  How might I use this kind of approach in my current settings?
Currently I’m in the process of helping people to learn how to teach publically better.  So instead of just teaching by telling, I hope to create an environment where they learn to teach by teaching one another, much like a toastmasters.  To create a learning environment where not only do they practice teaching, but by constructively critiquing others, they are able to learn some of the best ways they learn, which in turn would hopefully instruct them in how they would approach teaching.

Summary and Synthesis
While this book was hard to follow at times, it was helpful in gaining a better understanding of how case-in-point teaching and learning takes place in the multiple spaces and formats over a given semester.  It is a fine example of how to teach leadership with a strong accent one each persons past as well as the immediate experience of the present.  My hope is to get to understand this approach in more depth and consider which environments or training that this approach would best benefit those learning.

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