Developing Personally – Thinking Globally - Moving beyond McLeadership

Apr 15, 2010 11:20 AM ET
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The Acacia Group - Socially Respnsible Leadership

 In 2008, as my colleagues and I were exploring our concepts around socially responsible leadership, I had an opportunity to spend a week in northern Mexico serving in a community food program. The challenge we tasked ourselves with was to fully immerse ourselves in the culture and to contribute in a way that met the needs of the community with a focus on the development of capacity rather than aid. As we crossed the border into Mexico I realized that for the first time in my adult life I was the wrong gender and colour. I had no language, in fact I had little to offer other than a heart for serving and a desire to learn.   What they taught me was the meaning of community. A lesson so powerful and evocative that even the smell of fresh cilantro sharpens both my senses and my memories and brings the experience rushing back. 

  Learning is a basic human function. We are primed to learn from our first precious minutes of existence. While babies are interacting with and learning about their environment they are creating new connections and pathways between nerve cells both within their brains, and between their brains and bodies. While physical growth and change is easily observed and measured, cognitive and psychosocial change and development is a little harder to determine as clearly.   The kind of learning that has the greatest impact on adult learners (and therefore the greatest possibility for transformation) is the kind of learning that takes place when an adult is fully immersed in the learning experience.   When the individual’s heart, mind and body are fully engaged in the experience powerful and often transformational change occurs. Barbara K. Given in her book, “Teaching to the Brain’s Natural Learning Systems”, identifies five major systems: emotional, social, cognitive, physical, and reflective. The Greeks had a word that describes learning of this magnitude...metamorphoo. It is learning that literally renews the mind.   Most traditional training events fall far short of the five natural learning modalities. Warren Bennis addresses this in his seminal work, “On Becoming a Leader”. Bennis suggests that leadership cannot be learned in a weekend training seminar...”I’ve come to think of that one as the microwave theory: pop in Mr. or Ms. Average and out pops McLeader in sixty seconds.” Our most powerful learning experiences in life typically take place in a total immersion environment when all five of the natural learning modalities are present and we are able to gather information from ourselves, our colleagues/friends, and our environment.    Erik Erikson described a pivotal stage in adult psychosocial development as generativity vs. stagnation. A hallmark of this stage in adulthood is the growing desire to contribute to society and to guide the coming generations. Erikson postulates that as we work toward the betterment of society a sense of accomplishment and generativity results. Researchers claim that this stage of psychosocial development is actually the intersection of society and the human life cycle. Erikson’s theory teaches us that when this desire for generativity is stifled a kind of stagnation permeates our lives with a growing sense of alienation and disenfranchisement.   It would seem that ongoing adult learning and development is as critical to our world as the glorious wonderment of our children’s first years.   Where do you turn for your generative conversations and experiences? Do you think there’s more to life than paying the power bill? Are you interested in thinking deeply about the developing world and developing communities and your place within it?     If so, maybe an immersion experience is just what you’re looking for. Sure beats stagnation...