In March 2013, when I was preparing to speak at EFMD’s annual MBA conference about “creating a positive group dynamic” in an MBA classroom, I first thought of the word culture. As I noted in a previous post, in today’s world we must do something in all our learning environments that goes far beyond the mere transfer of knowledge. Certainly, co-creating a culture with the members of the group is a powerful element that can help take us “beyond”.
My reflection about creating a positive dynamic in the classroom then led me to think in terms of any group, and in particular about the notion of transformation. Years ago, as a student of leadership working on a doctoral dissertation, I was intrigued by the distinction between a transactional leader and a transformational one. In simple terms, transactional leaders deal in the realm of the tangible; they give material rewards for work well accomplished or for the loyalty of followers.
Transformational leaders, on the other hand, find ways to go beyond tangible transactions. They are able to raise consciousness levels among their supporters, furnishing rewards of a higher order, helping others to understand the deeper significance of their daily activities, or by providing meaningful growth experiences.
At a basic level, many traditional relationships are based on transactional logic. In organizations, for example, workers perform tasks in exchange for wages and other benefits. In schools, students pay to attend class, and teachers are compensated for transferring knowledge. If students attend class and do their assignments diligently, they are rewarded in the grades and distinctions they receive.
In my teaching–and in all of my coaching, consulting or public speaking for that matter–my goal is to go far beyond these types of transactional systems. Whenever possible, I would like to turn my interaction with a group or an individual into a transformational learning experience. In this endeavor, I draw some of my inspiration from the ancient Greek philosophers.
The classical Greeks considered learning and reflection to be the very purpose of human existence. Life was seen as one long road toward self-knowledge, and everything along the path was part of an individual’s learning journey. And, it was the process of learning that allowed human beings to grow and to transform themselves. Learning was about acquiring knowledge, of course, but also about expanding the mind and exploring new ways of thinking.
Today there are numerous ways to push yourself to expand your mind. Try this one for example:
As a former small business CEO who spent 15 years participating in hiring decisions, I would argue that expanding the mind to include new ways of thinking is more important today than ever. Much of what we teach in our schools centers on problem solving, using logic and analytical skills. Of course, such skills are an important component of our one’s education; the ability to think analytically and solve problems is as necessary as ever.
Given the complexity and speed of the world today, though, those who succeed in organizations will increasingly be those who able to perceive broader patterns of meaning, and to understand big-picture issues. As such, in our classrooms and in our business training programs, we should be concerned with encouraging individuals to expand their range of thinking, to see how the all the pieces of a whole fit together, and to imagine creative solutions.
In a sense, we are playing the game on two levels simultaneously. We are not only learning on the job or in a classroom; we should also be learning about how to learn and grow, about how to ask questions and how to take our mind in new directions.
In fact, when I coach leaders or teach leadership, I like to say that we are in “the emotional transportation business”. One of the leader’s roles is to inspire and encourage their groups to go somewhere special and meaningful, somewhere they could not have gone on their own.
[Image: flickr user Cyril-Rana!!]