• Changing on the Job Developing Leaders for a Complex World by Jennifer Garvey Berger

    by  • April 13, 2017 • Book Review, Evolutionary, Leadership, Uncategorized • 0 Comments

    Book Review in the Harvard Educational Review

    Developing professionals, especially leaders, who can understand and effectively navigate the complexities of twenty-first-century organizational life—a central aim of many adult educators, school administrators, professional coachevars, and organizational consultants—is a daunting and critical task. In her book Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World, Jennifer Garvey Berger explains how attending to one often-overlooked dimension of human diversity—what she calls form of mind—offers the potential to increase the impact, reach, and longevity of programs and practices aimed at promoting such development.

    Drawing on her experience as a coach and consultant and on her knowledge of constructive developmental theory—a branch of human development theory holding that people actively construct meaning in ways that develop over time—Berger argues that real growth involves a “qualitative shift, not just in knowledge, but in perspective or way of thinking” (p. 17). Accordingly, she outlines four different forms of mind that adults can sequentially develop and that represent qualitative shifts in ways of thinking: self-sovereign, socialized, self-authored, and self-transforming. While the book opens with embodied descriptions of these four forms of mind, focusing on key differences along salient dimensions such as perspective taking, relationships to authority, and experiences of paradox, the bulk of the text is oriented toward improving practice: helping coaches and consultants design programs and processes that will effectively support the success and growth of all forms of mind.

    Although it would be difficult to capture here the richness of Berger’s characterizations of the four forms of mind, the following example noting differences in perspective-taking abilities reveals an important segment of the larger picture and provides a foundation for subsequent illustrations. Specifically, Berger notes that an individual with a self-sovereign mind cannot see and take others’ perspectives. In contrast, someone with the more complex socialized mind can readily see and take the perspectives of other people, theories, organizations, and religions but becomes embedded within them, experiencing them as her own and feeling torn if they conflict. Meanwhile, a person with a self-authored mind can take others’ perspectives while distinguishing his own but uses others’ points of view to strengthen or solidify his own. Finally, an individual with a self-transforming mind sees and understands others’ perspectives and uses them to purposely transform her own understanding to become more expansive and integrated.

    Illuminating how development professionals can apply this knowledge of forms of mind to better support growth of adults in professional settings, Berger advocates designing programs and practices that deliver on two objectives: (1) better reaching the uniqueness of individuals and (2) better accommodating the diversity of groups. With respect to the first goal, Berger recommends working at the growth edge, or providing each person with the types of support needed to both operate effectively with the current form of mind and, if necessary, develop the next, more complex form of mind. Expanding on this point, she explains how growth challenges look different for each form of mind. For example, the self-sovereign individual needs help seeing other people’s perspectives, while the socialized person needs help distinguishing her own voice from others’. The self-authored individual, however, needs reminders to question personal views and to see value in new, more incorporative possibilities.

    Berger introduces techniques for identifying a person’s growth edge and demonstrates how working at this edge can promote alignment between development program goals and individual capabilities and priorities. For example, development practices designed to help individuals strengthen their independent judgment are well oriented to the growth edge of socialized individuals who struggle to develop their own points of view. Such programs are less effective at supporting growth of self-authored and self-transforming individuals, whose forms of mind already afford this capacity.

    In terms of reaching the diversity of groups more thoughtfully, Berger suggests expanding developmental program design and teaching to make them more psychologically spacious, or more accommodating of the unique thinking processes and growth priorities of as many different forms of mind as possible. Her propositions include, for example: developing multiple entry points into new content, each oriented toward a different form of mind; helping groups relate to knowledge and truth in multiple ways that accommodate the authorizing tendencies of different forms of mind; and defining an array of success measures targeting different forms’ growth priorities.

    Notably, Berger asserts that no form of mind is inherently superior, since each works best in different contexts. As such, she affirms that development of a more complex form of mind is not a universal goal. Yet she does point out that forms of mind represent different levels of complexity and integration of the thinking process. Each successive form offers greater versatility, affording the capacity to more fully understand environments spanning more degrees of complexity. As such, development of a more complex mind is indeed an imperative for those who lead, or seek to lead, twenty-first-century organizations.

    Expounding this point, a chapter cowritten with colleague Keith Johnston delineates how individuals with each form of mind might be specifically challenged or equipped to meet the scope and scale of the demands associated with twenty-first-century leadership. These demands, they argue, include: crafting multiyear visions, managing conflicting needs of multiple stakeholders, and accounting for complex task interdependencies—all of which contribute to increasingly nonlinear relationships between the leader’s actions and organizational outcomes and increase the experience of ambiguity and paradox. Specifically, among many other examples, Berger and Johnson discuss how levels of perspective-taking ability can affect a leader’s capacity to effectively manage multiple stakeholders. For example, self-sovereign leaders, who have awareness of only their own points of view, are simply unable to hold and manage the perspectives of any stakeholders whose views differ from their own. On the opposite extreme, self-transforming leaders naturally take multiple, divergent perspectives and find larger, meaningful patterns among them. Using examples such as this, Berger and Johnson highlight the need to incorporate into our workplaces more practices, such as those outlined in this book, that recognize and develop more complex leaders.

    On the whole, Changing on the Job provides a highly accessible introduction to the value, challenges, and strategies associated with taking a developmental approach to supporting adult growth. Although oriented toward the corporate sector, the book is relevant to multiple sectors, including education. It will serve as a useful resource for coaches, consultants, educators, and administrators responsible for helping adults grow in professional settings.

    http://hepg.org/her-home/issues/harvard-educational-review-volume-82-number-2/herbooknote/changing-on-the-job_375

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