Pedagogy for Grownups
By Lucille Maddalena, Ed.D.
If you have not heard of the term andragogy, you are in good company.
The term andragogy was coined in the 1800s by Alexander Knapp, a German educator, to refer to “methods or techniques used to teach adults” and was popularized in the 1960s by Malcolm Knowles, an American educator. Andragogy is often compared to Pedagogy, the term used to describe teaching techniques for children.
The misnomer of pedagogy as encompassing all learning was acknowledged by Knowles in 1970: “…somewhere in history the ‘children’ part of the definition of pedagogy got lost. In many people’s minds—and ev
n in the dictionary “Pedagogy” is defined as the art and science of teaching. Period. Even in books on adult education you can find references to “the Pedagogy of adult education,” without any apparent discomfort over the contradiction in terms. Indeed, in my estimation, the main reason why adult education has not achieve the impact of our civilizations of which it is capable is that most teachers of adults have only known how to teach adults as if they were children.”
The purpose for this paper is to highlight andragogy as an approach to learning that is a critical element of all learning. As I have Coached executives for 25 years I will focus on its application in the engagement of coaching. Knowles’ work and other leaders in the field present a theory or set of assumptions about learning that when applied to coaching will guide our exploration of innovative approaches to encourage self-development. Andragogy describes the unique adult learning experience that can be captured in a coaching relationship.
A Coach manages or guides the process itself rather than lecturing ‘content’ as in traditional pedagogy, employing an andragogical approach to achieve an effective intervention or successfully completed engagement. Across all disciplines applied in the coaching process, an evaluation of the initiatives to inspire learning will reveal the existence of an andragogical approach. As we seek new levels of involvement through our carefully organized multi-disciplinary events we are employing andragogy to unite social media, training, management development, coaching as well as organizational and academic research. Awareness is the key to understanding: naming a concept and applying a definition enable us to better embrace and apply all facets of the approach.
A COACHING EXAMPLE
I will use my work as an Executive Coach to illustrate how andragogy is a consistent element in an effective coaching event. My clients are top level corporate executives, successful people who may be experiencing some type of transition, promotion or organization change.
A useful example occurred recently with a talented Senior Vice President (SVP) at a global Corporation responsible for approximately 2,000 employees in his region. We worked together for about a year to seek ways for him to better engage with his new and larger regional team while creating a position of greater respect among his peers. To accomplish this I elected to initiate and facilitate a Team Strategy Session with his newly assigned Regional Team Leaders. The regional HR staff member co-facilitated to allow the SVP to exhibit the new skills he mastered during our time together. The event was extremely successful on several levels:
- The organization benefited with the implementation of the strategy the regional team developed in support of the corporate mission.
- The SVP benefited as he was able to present his mission in an inspiring manner, revealing his genuine commitment to the strategy his team would develop and dedication to the success of every member of his team. He also benefited by receiving immediate feedback from his team and he reestablished himself as a leader by confirming that he had followers — essential to the role of a leader.
- The Regional Team Leaders benefited by organizing into smaller teams required to interact to achieve stated goals, thus forming new avenues for communication and interaction within the region.
- Team staff benefited on multiple lower levels as mission and task were clearly presented and supported with opportunity for growth and increased recognition.
Note that I listed the value to the organization first: without the organization support we would not be able to fulfill our calling as coaches. As a result of this event, the region created a model for developing strategy and effectively implementing their plan that has been shared globally.
The best part of the story is that it is not over. As we debriefed this event and reviewed our coaching discussions, the SVP gained the confidence to delve deeper into his reflections, perceptions, risks and fears. During our discussions of feelings, judgments, relationships and personal as well as organizational goals, I guided the SVP to express his feelings about the tasks and people he worked with.
This endeavor culminated in further success for the SVP. When required to make a presentation to peers and the corporate leaders about a LEAN project, the SVP sought my help to prepare his speech. Rather than the traditional approach we choose to not use power points, graphs and statistics, instead we decided to speak from the heart. We worked on a description of the process, the people, and how it felt to be involved in a continuous improvement program. We identified words that reflected the corporate culture, the commitment, and the pride as well as job satisfaction that best reflected how employees talked about their work.
This description of ‘feelings’ about the project won the SVP a second round of kudos from all levels in the company. He realized the extent of his success when the day after his presentation the global President used the same words and phrases we chose to describe his vision for the entire organization, explaining that to truly appreciate your involvement you must feel the value of your efforts.
The entire coaching event was deemed a success. But was this coaching? What else took place that dominated the agenda and brought the SVP to a new place in his career? The answer is Andragogy.
ANDRAGOGY: ADULT LEARNING
Andragogy appears to have enjoyed a much more rapid acceptance and growth in Europe than in the U.S. In the US, the developing fields of management and organizational development as well as psychotherapy and social psychology have inspired new interest. Addressing interpersonal as well as intrapersonal aspects of an individual’s level of understanding requires our awareness of how adults learn as individuals and as contributing members of a community or organization.
It is useful for today’s coach to review the six crucial assumptions Knowles developed to base his premise describing characteristics of adult learners and possibly the same qualifiers we apply when considering an individual to coach:
- The Need to Know: Adults need to know why they need to learn something before undertaking to learn it. The decision to be coached is a choice of the individual; a self-driven initiative.
- Self-concept:As a person matures his/her self-concept moves from one of being a dependent personality toward one of being a self-directed human being. Coaching seeks self-awareness and acceptance.
- Experience:As a person matures s/he accumulates a growing reservoir of experience that becomes an increasing resource for learning. Coaching provides the opportunity to evaluate what we have learned, what we should retain or change, and what we could learn.
- Readiness to learn.As a person matures his/her readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles. Coaching inspires the development of new skills and recognition of a full range of options.
- Orientation to learning.As a person matures his/her time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his/her orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centeredness. Coaching encourages a world-view, embracing new opportunities for continuous growth.
- Motivation to learn:As a person matures the motivation to learn is internal. Coaching embraces life-long learning and self-coaching.
These six assumptions are with us today, applied by coaching practitioners representing all of the contributing disciplines, employing an andragogical approach using new mediums as we seek to inspire leadership and self-direction.
Concurrently within business and industry programs such as LEAN promote continuous learning for quality production, academics pursue research and study to expand our field and technology is in a never-ending evolution of research, learning and exploration that provides a means to share our knowledge.
THE ANDRAGOGICAL PROCESS
Early in my career I created and offered a training program titled TRANSITION TO MANAGEMENT, and later TRANSITION TO LEADERSHIP for higher level employees that applied the principles of andragogy. The series of seminars were offered at sites in North and South America for a global pharmaceutical firm during twenty consecutive years as well as at other client companies during the same period, reaching about 6,000 executives. Part of the series required selected high potential employees to participate in a group coaching program and some were targeted for individual coaching. This interaction helped the potential new leaders to identify their strengths and develop individual career paths for future success.
Every Coach understands the need to recognize the learner’s capacity, interest and present level of knowledge before beginning an event, utilizing an assessment or psychological evaluation instrument before beginning to coach. The key components of today’s Coaching events as well as business training and development compose the foundation to the andragogical process.
Knowles refers to as the technology of andragogical learning as a continuous circular application in the development, organization and administration of a program which can easily be applied to the development of a coaching event:
- Setting a climate for learning
- Establishing a structure of mutual planning
- Assessing interests, needs and values
- Formulating objectives
- Designing learning activities
- Implementing learning activities
- Evaluating results (reassessing needs, interests and values
The organization itself provides the foundation for andragogy:
- A climate for Learning
- A structure for mutual planning
This environment for continuous learning from personal experience recognizes the impact of the organization’s culture, the importance of evolving organization development and the agility of the organization to respond to the changing environment:
- In small learning groups (teams) as a process to redirect risk and conflict issues through interpersonal activity
- Self-directed learning to encourage continuous re-assessment of our own evolving needs as they emerge from the demands of the changing situation.
It is interesting to consider Knowles’ comparison of assumptions between pedagogy and andragogy. Below I have inserted the term ‘DIRECTIVE/CLASSROOM’ in our consideration of pedagogical learning and ‘SELF-DIRECTIVE/EXPERIENTIAL’ for andragogical learning.
||Dependent. Teacher directs what, when, how a subject is learned and tests that it has been learned outside of actual situations.
||Moves towards independence. Facilitator encourages and nurtures sharing and involvement as situations unfold.
|The learner’s experience
||Personal experience is not referenced. Teaching methods are didactic
||Stories and illustrations are shared as a rich resource for learning. Teaching methods include discussion, problem-solving etc.
|Readiness to learn
||People learn what society expects them to. The curriculum is standardized.
||People learn what they need to know, so that learning programs organized around life application.
|Orientation to learning
||Acquisition of subject matter. Curriculum organized by subjects.
||Learning experiences should be based around experiences, since people are performance centered in their learning
It may be of interest to some to note that in the U.S., the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) offers certification in levels of Human Resource Management, accordingly a directive field of study of organization and employee laws and regulations. The Association for Talent Development (ATD, formerly ASTD), offers certification in self-directive skills such as facilitation, coaching, team building and of course training for employee learning.
COACHING AS LEARNING
A well-known quote credited to Confucius describes living itself as a learning experience:
“I hear and I forget,
I see and I remember
I do and I understand.”
Learning can effectively occur in a classroom, on a manufacturing floor, in a coaching session, or while walking down a hall way. It is the individual’s capacity and receptivity to an idea or concept that when internalized becomes thought for possible future action. Whatever medium is chosen to disseminate information, the critical factor is first knowing the audience.
Again, allow me to share my personal experience. While a graduate student, and before I created the TRANSITION leadership series, I was chosen as the only outside consultant called in to work with a team of manufacturing executives who were in conflict. The drug they produced had been tampered with while on the store shelf, resulting in several deaths. The situation devastated members of the manufacturing group that produced the drug; a few became despondent, questioning themselves as to what else they could have done to prevent any type of product tampering.
This event was a learning experience for the organization, for the individuals, and for me. The feelings, thoughts, reactions of those executives were acknowledged and served as a learning tool to plan the company’s future as well as their personal futures. During this coaching event the executives were able to express their pain privately and learn to balance emotions with action. When together they learned how to use their strength to develop and share plans and processes to prevent future attempts at tampering.
Learning cannot be ‘siloed’ to one person or one event, we are all connected and there is not one correct answer or response to a complex situation. Conducting individual as well as group sessions with the team brings a collaborate focus to understand what had transpired and how to move forward. Team building and conflict resolution workshops are as valuable to the development of today’s leaders and organizations as is private coaching. We must ask ourselves how much more effective each interaction could be if we consistently applied an andragogical approach by establishing a relationship between the learning events.
When we agree to coach corporate leaders we must acknowledge the complexity of the task. Our work must be aligned with the corporate vision and mission, become a collaborative effort to support the individual’s goals and respect the existing corporate culture. The following is my ode to a leader using the yin-yang philosophy, which can be easily applied as a useful definition of a coach:
“A successful leader must be consistent and flexible:
consistent in process, flexible in implementation.”
Kurt Lewin in the 1940’s offered a prescription for resolving social conflict through what he described as ‘reeducation’. The term and its application comes very close to how we define Coaching today as it is extremely useful in the structured environment of a corporate workforce.
Consider that Lewin demonstrated that the processes for acquisition of normal and abnormal social behaviors are fundamentally alike, thus our perception of reality may at any time be correct or incorrect. Acknowledging this duality reinforces the importance of current non-directive coaching practices. By questioning norms and challenging assumptions for self-direction the learner becomes the teacher; the coach is the guide to inspire self-development.
Further, applying Lewin’s concept in a learning environment leads us to understand that perceptions of reality that steer or direct our actions requires changes in cognitive structure (facts, concepts, beliefs, expectations) as well as changes in values (attractions, aversions, feelings of acceptance and status). To survive and succeed, a leader must be able to transition from old values and ideas to new ones by internalizing new behaviors that reinforce the new values.
My preferred evaluative instrument is the Hogan Leadership Assessment because it provides a useful exploration of the individual’s values. From this data we are able to open the door for deep discussion into anger, reactions, judgments and especially risk. Along with values and needs, an individual’s perception of risk is critical to the way s/he conducts meetings, make decisions and manage a team.
“Every meeting must have an equal amount of dissension and humor”
WHAT DOES ANDRAGOGY MEAN TO COACHING TODAY?
Coaching has brought a new dimension to learning. What can we, as coaches, learn from these theories of education that will enable us to support the learning experience of those we coach? How do we contribute to the individual’s life-long, evolutionary process of gaining new concepts, challenging existing assumptions and seeking innovation?
When we consider that coaching is about learning and self-development, we recognize that as coaches we embrace existing proven processes embodied in our disciplines to benefit those we coach. Whether we are deep in confidential discussion with our clients, conducting a group coaching session with key staff members, or facilitating an exploratory session with the leader’s team, we must respect our role as guide. We enable those we coach to examine all that is new as well as all that is old by reminding them of options and sharing our experience as well as interdisciplinary learnings.
Thus, coaching has earned its place as a learning tool in today’s corporations by engaging the individual to examine personal assumptions, historical preferences, and existing habits that may help or hinder future advancement. Perhaps what early advocates of andragogy were seeking was to reinstate the Socratic approach to learning, allowing the learner to direct exploration of the topic by responding to questions and uncovering truths implicitly known by all rational beings.
In the 1960’s, theorists began to recognize that the emphasis on growth through the tutor/mentor relationships as places too great a focus on cognitive development to explain what learning is really about. Knowles writes: “[R. M.] Jones (1968) objects to [Jerome] Bruner’s under-emphasis on emotional skills, his exclusive attention to extra psychic stimuli, the equating of symbolism with verbalism and his preoccupation with the processes of concept attainment to the seeming exclusion of the processes of concept formation or invention.” 
Knowles further notes that Bruner “is moving away from the perception of learning as a process of controlling, changing or shaping behavior and putting it more in the contest of competency development.” Knowles further describes “the most dynamic and prolific developments in the field of psychology, humanist psychology, has exploded on the scene…and carried his trend of thought much further,” referring to Carl Rogers’ five elements of humanistic psychology (1968).
Similar descriptions of learning during this period include: 
- 1961 Harris and Schwahn: “Learning is essentially change due to experience”
- 1963 Cronbach: “Learning is shown by a change in behavior as a result of experience”
- 1965 Gagne: “Learning is a change in human disposition or capability, which can be retained, and which is not simply ascribable to the process of growth.”
- 1966 Hilgard and Bower: “Learning is the process by which an activity originates or is changed through reacting to an encountered situation, provided that the characteristics of the change in activity cannot be explained on the basis of native response tendencies, maturation or temporary state of the organism.”
- 1970 Maslow: The goal of learning is self-actualization. “The full use of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc.”
The common theme in these statements acknowledges the impact of change on human behavior.
NEW FREEDOM AND JOY
By sharing my examples of applied andragogy, my intention is to make it clear that among my passions for my field of study I advocate continuous learning, the sharing of emotions, the exploration of feelings, and the awareness that life is evolving; in the work environment change is a constant often impacted by the dominating organization culture. For those we coach to be able to learn, function, and succeed in these sometimes clashing environments is a challenge.
Our skills as coaches can support even the most successful to continue to grow, achieve a new life goal or gain greater satisfaction from their career.
Storytelling has long been accepted as a tool for learning. I often refer to my years working with unions, serving as an elected government official, or participating in the sport of dog sledding to offer analogies of risk when opening the door for this many-faceted discussion. Whether we discuss the physical challenge of sports or the mental challenge of politics, the core subject is a means to open the door to a deep discussion of faith, confidence, privacy, leadership, negotiations, etc. My sharing inevitably establishes a bond and increases the rapport allowing the client to offer personal experiences and explore deeper relationships and feelings, including work and life decisions that contributed to the current situation.
This self-exploration, one of the first steps in andragogy allows my clients to shed pre-conceived notions, historically repeated behaviors and assumptions that enabled them to be successful in previous situations. As a result of this decluttering, many of my clients describe an unexpected and highly appreciated found freedom. They state they now have the confidence to move ahead in their careers by granting themselves the freedom to be themselves.
Personal discovery and release of behaviors formerly assumed necessary to achieve goals is a cathartic experience. Many recognize that former behaviors often did not express their attitudes and approaches –and in some situations caused the individual to act contrary to their nature resulting in mental stress and physical illness.
Those who have successfully completed a coaching engagement have learned how to grant themselves the right to choose to act and respond according to their personal values, perceptions and needs. Hearing a client express new excitement for their work and future with the self-commitment and confidence to be who they are, brings joy and satisfaction to my life.
A successful coaching event ends when the individual being coached is ready to continue the process through self-coaching. One of my favorite statements to share is my definition of Self-Coaching:
“The process of self-coaching is addressing evolving transitions and change, where innovation, imagination, and creativity are born.
This source of self-confidence is exposed in spontaneity, laughter and, ultimately joy.
As a person changes a life pattern, they evolve, changing life perspectives and expanding their acceptance to embrace greater wisdom and understanding.”
 The term andragogy (or andragogology) is a combination of the classical Green noun agage, which is the activity of leading, and andr, the word for adult. Knowles, M.S., Holton III, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2005). The Adult Learner, 6, 15.
 [W]hat we describe as adult learning is not a different kind or order from child learning. Indeed our main point is that man must be seen as a whole, in his lifelong development. Principles of learning will apply, in ways that we shall suggest to all stages in life. The reason why we specify adults throughout is obvious. This is the field that has been neglected, not that of childhood. (Kidd 1978: 17) http://infed.org/mobi/andragogy-what-is-it-and-does-it-help-thinking-about-adult-learning/.
 The expanding field of heutrology may also have applications for coaching that should continue to be studied. “Heutagogy is the study of self-determined learning … It is also an attempt to challenge some ideas about teaching and learning that still prevail in teacher centred learning and the need for, as Bill Ford (1997) eloquently puts it ‘knowledge sharing’ rather than ‘knowledge hoarding’. In this respect heutagogy looks to the future in which knowing how to learn will be a fundamental skill given the pace of innovation and the changing structure of communities and workplaces. https://heutagogycop.wordpress.com/history-of-heutagogy/
Lean manufacturing is a business model and collection of tactical methods that emphasize eliminating non-value added activities (waste) while delivering quality products on time at least cost with greater efficiency. See http://www.epa.gov/lean/environment/
 Knowles, M.S., Holton III, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2005). The Adult Learner, P. 57-58
 See http://mtmcoach.com/leadership-development/team-development/
 Knowles, M.S. (1970). Modern Practice of Adult Education.
Knowles, M.S., Holton III, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2005). The Adult Learner, 6, 57-58.
 Lewin, K. (1997). Resolving social conflicts and field theory in social science. American Psychology Association.
 Knowles, M.S., Holton III, E.F., & Swanson, R.A. (2005). The Adult Learner, 14
A engrossing book on the evolution of management today that I recently received as a gift from an esteemed colleague is THE AGE OF HERETICS by Art Kleiner. Described as a “history of the radical thinkers who reinvented corporate management” published in 1996 by Warren Bennis, the content remains impactful. I will recommend this book to those I coach seeking inspiration and innovation to challenge their future by understanding how we arrived at today’s working environment.
Here is an excerpt from the Preface by Steven Wheeler and Walter McFarland to give you an idea of what is in store for you:
The nature of effective management has become increasingly clear in recent years. We now know, for example, that the leader of an organization has only a few years to make change succeed; that attention to people can make the difference between success and failure; that businesses run by the numbers alone, without a sense of purpose, tend to fail; that high-quality teams can operate with autonomy and be trusted with the future of the enterprise; and that organizations that treat people as fully invested participants, and themselves as full-hearted citizens, and become great places to work where people continually learn and improve are the companies and agencies that end up with competitive advantages.
Heretics matter because leadership matters. In case after case, in organization and in society at large, when the single individual at the top is replaced, everything else changes—for the better or the worse. But more than is generally realized, the effectiveness of leaders depends on the context around them. The best leaders pay a great deal of attention to the design of elements around them: they articulate a lucid sense of purpose, create effective leadership teams, prioritize and sequence their initiatives carefully, redesign organizational structures to make good execution easier, and most important, integrate all of these tactics into one coherent strategy.
The stakes couldn’t be higher, because the world runs through its corporations and governments; improve those, and you improve not just the economy but the social and political prospects for everyone. And if we care about the dream of human fulfillment, we need to pay attention. Not only has the world become a world of organizations, but more and more human time, effort, and emotion are invested in them. Great organizations and great leaders give more than a good living: they contribute to a good life.
Thanks NB for the gift of this book! – LM
Middle management, comprised of first-line supervisors to associate-directors, is the largest and most powerful group of white-collar workers in the corporate sector. From this sector will grow the leaders for tomorrow’s organizations. It is surprising to find that although middle-managers sustain the organization, many leaders appear to overlook or minimize the dynamic role of this integral group who:
- represent a significant financial investment for a corporation in salaries, value of output, production investment and maintenance expenditures.
- experience continuing upheaval while being ignored, punished and blamed for corporate excess.
- stand caught between career-driven senior managers and associates seeking security.
- fill the courts with workers’ complaints: replacing unions with private counsel.
- share experiences and perspectives with peers who may be chosen as ‘high potential’ employees and future corporate leaders.
- during their work life will transition between four to nine different careers.
- attract struggling women returning to work, marginalized older workers, and novice entry-level college graduates.
- enforce the culture, implement the systems, and present the firm to the world as the backbone of the company.
Leaders dedicated to building a sustainable organization by incorporating long-term value to their strategic plans are wise to tap into the knowledge and experience of this group.
As a trainer and coach to over 6,000 executives in the pharmaceutical industry, as well as many others in telecom and manufacturing, I have watched these talented folks move through transition and observed how their contribution to the organization’s success continues to be undervalued by both their managers and themselves. Middle-managers, through sheer number and connectivity, control an organization’s culture. The formal corporate mission sets a direction: it is the task of corporate leaders to align all levels, involve all employees, and inspire the trust necessary to work toward a shared vision.
How can we engage middle managers and enable them to gain the confidence to accept risk and share innovative ideas that could well inspire those levels above them? I’ll share ideas discovered by my twenty years work with this group that may help you harness the power of middle managers.
Who are the middle managers that inhabit our corporations, small businesses and nonprofits today? You may be surprised by the answer to that question. Take this little test to see if you fall into the ranks of this often-blamed and typically disenfranchised group:
- Are you charged with carrying out decisions made by upper management that affect the job responsibilities of the staff at a level below you?
- Is your position subject to dissolution during budget tightening, when quality performers tend to jump ship to prevent damaging their resume?
- Do you avoid risky situations such as taking action when you notice a dysfunctional area that could benefit from an intervention and change?
If you answered “yes” to all three questions, you are a middle manager. It may not be a popular role in our success-driven society, but you are in the majority and among good company.
From the IT-skilled, to supervisors at a food manufacturing plant, members of this morphing, impactful group represents all ages, backgrounds and nationalities What is most astonishing is how labor unrest and economic situations that existed during the pre-WW II era are repeated today on a global scale: a disengaged workforce is once again maligned with charges of hindering business change. It is time we find ways to maximize the investment in this fluctuating reserve of reliable talent. As the economy fights to become stable, what can we do to focus the energy and resources of this critical segment of the U.S. workforce?
Strategy Derailed by Culture
Outsourcing and off-shoring have decimated the ranks of U.S. middle-managers and the American middle class as major firms and small businesses ‘go global’ to survive. Today many firms are recoiling from unrest in third world countries as a few American-based corporations begin to reevaluate their strategy with an eye toward long-term growth stability over short-term profits.
It is not only the location of their offices that firms are reassessing. Committed to long-term success, firms realize the value of identifying and supporting future leaders. As a result of this initiative, a privileged class of ‘high potential’ employees are being culled from the ranks of the middle class. Selected for their knowledge, personality type and relationship style, they are guided, groomed and educated to assume assignments critical to the organization’s growth. However, much like their peers within the middle class, they continue to exhibit divided loyalties between career success and work/life balance. It is the work culture that will most significantly influence their success as well as the success of the organization to achieve its mission and vision.
Noted strategists are now acknowledging that when developing effective strategy for change we cannot ignore the existing culture: culture is the dominant force. Therefore, let’s consider some of the elements existing in many corporate cultures today by tracking their originals and the environment in which they began. We will begin with the ‘baby boomers, a generation who began their careers in the 1980s: they are the current ‘historians’ and mentors to high potential employees in today’s corporate culture.
The 1980s is an era marked by: a) recognizing that there was a finite point at which corporate growth was not profitable, b) the implementation of the first of many major workforce downsizings, and c) the insurgence of women as a corporate force. These three events had a significant impact on the operating culture and business dynamics within organizations:
- “Cradle to grave jobs” became a thing of the past and unions became less powerful as white-collar jobs increased and participative management became popular.
- Corporate jobs were now temporary positions, horizontal growth prepared members to accept multiple jobs in their career and to meet changing job requirements.
- Technological evolution caused changed the way information is gathered and distributed providing a push for women eager to advance to seize their opportunity.
As middle-managers worked through each phase of this encompassing transition, they set the stage and created the norms that affect how business is evolving today.
A History of Distrust
Participative Leaders of the 1980’s
WHITE COLLAR MANAGERS: The investment in talent at major firms of the early 1980’s focused on college-educated men seeking to don the white shirt, dark suit and red tie that signaled success. At the start of the century the work culture was authoritative and male-centric: the ideal job was a corner office with a beautiful secretary. As one of the few female management trainers and educators, I received and witnessed inappropriate joking that although blatantly sexist, were accepted as a norm. The introduction of computers and the need to accept full responsibility for personal communication significantly influenced interpersonal relationships, management roles and the work environment: a participative style of management proved most successful.
BLUE COLLAR MANAGERS: The working class of in the 1980’s complained that the company had abandoned them: ‘cradle to grave jobs’ were no more and there was a feeling of isolation and uncertainty for their future. Unions were on the decline: upward mobility became a viable opportunity for more men and women. Highly skeptical former union members were sent to training programs to prepare to accept positions of managerial authority. For many, this transition would mark them as the first member of their family to work in a white-collar environment.
Other groups to seek entrance into the white-collar job market were less-educated women and members of ethnic and social minorities. Affirmative action and diversity programs were developed to assist those anxious to assimilate into the workforce: successful transition into a middle-management job would change their lives and their family’s lives forever. Employee development programs focused on quality production and efficiency.
LESSONS LEARNED: Once again the American workforce is disengaged and left with feelings of abandonment as work is sent to global sites. As the employee felt less empowered, the work performed began to lose its connection to the life and future success of the individual.
Managing employees in today’s environment of constant change requires an appreciation for and ability to flexibly apply the entire range of management styles, often under situations of stress. The lesson we can learn from this era is the importance of providing safe simulation opportunities that enable experienced as well as prospective managers to test their responses in pressure situation. This methodology promotes blended learning, application of assessments and small group processes while identifying necessary competences to develop personal models of success.
Flat organizations of the 1990s
Employees in large and small businesses quickly recognized that in the business world of the1980s the revolution that impacted them most directly changed the way American’s viewed their career.Their role as an employee and their work were now considered temporary resources.
WHITE COLLAR MANAGERS: Perhaps more common in the corporate culture than in small business, images of a ‘virtual corporation’ began to form. The role of Human Resources was challenged, the study of psychology and management became blurred and new fields of study, such as Organization Development, flourished. To maintain a position in the same firm, middle managers looked less toward upward promotion and accepted horizontal development as a means to stay engaged and employed. Acquiring a broader range of skills appeared to be safer than accepting the risk of a challenging assignment. A focus on competencies rather than level of responsibility prepared employees to seek and accept multiple jobs during one’s career.
Knowledge and relationships were identified as the key to success. A useful indicator of how we tend to manage relationships is found in the behavioral norms employed in the selling skills methodology developed to meet changing individual and business needs. During the 1990s, ‘need satisfaction’ selling morphed into ‘relationship-management’ selling.
BLUE COLLAR MANAGERS: The level of trust in management is a good measure of a company’s success. During the 1990’s trust between middle management and leadership continued to erode as did risk taking and innovation. The gap widened between white and blue collar workers as white collar workers were offered training and coaching support to form teams.
Silos between and within department and functional areas developed. Blue collar workers mimicked their managers, choosing safe decisions for short-term success. As a result, the need for cross-functional teams became apparent to avoid duplication of effort and increase efficiency. During the 1990s a performance evaluation method became popular that included observations from peers, reports and customers, legitimizing the need to empower others, build relationships and support a culture of inclusion.
LESSONS LEARNED: This era marked a different view of job levels within a corporation. The importance of teamwork, open communications, and a matrix work environment became evident as did apprenticeship and mentoring programs. The learning model of creating teams builds an environment of support necessary to recognize and take action in a change situation. Teamwork is necessary to define risk, evaluate the need for change and intercede to improve the business environment.
SHARING TODAY’S VISION
As international firms grew into global enterprises, the employees of American-based firms reflect this diversity. By 2000, almost half the participants attending management development sessions at a US-based pharmaceutical were employees of international origin who spoke English as a second or third language. New cultures, mores and relationships continue to be openly discussed as employees share their personal stories.
WHITE COLLAR MANAGERS: Business closings and downsizing have created new anxiety among middle-managers. Long accustomed to job security based on acquiring an education, middle-managers of the 2000s show a powerful drive for continued learning, involvement in information sharing groups both inside and outside of the corporation, and dedication to personal development. Coaching, personal and group assessments, advanced and mini-degrees as well as certifications are tools considered necessary for career growth.
The power of on-going change, the need to stay current and the value of being connected beyond an immediate work team are prominent concerns to today’s middle-manager. Amid the diversity of the new American population and workforce since the 1980’s, it is important to note that there is a unifying theme among those in a middle-management role: they are more insistent when to comes to quality of life issues. Gen X, as well as ‘high potential’ employees express a more urgent demand for a balanced work and home life.
BLUE COLLAR MANAGERS: There is a renewed interest in unions, as advocates connect the demise of unionism to the demise of the middle class in America. The hardest hit by unemployment, a significant number of this group has dropped out of the workforce unable to obtain jobs. Disenfranchised veterans returning from wars overseas find they lack the skills and support networks necessary to find work and their place in society.
Speakers for this group challenge the viability of an American economy based as a Service Industry rather than manufacturing and product development. Resisting increased government support programs, these groups demand the creation of jobs that enable workers to become self-sufficient and regain personal pride.
APPLYING LESSONS LEARNED. Popular buzzwords in American corporations today are:‘align’, ‘engage’, ‘collaborate’, and ‘innovate’: all are action words that embrace change. “Positive psychology”, is discussed in corporate meetings, as is the need to be ‘genuine’, ‘honest’, and ‘transparent’ in all social interactions. The hallmark of today’s popular leader is someone who respects others and is respected in return.
Horizontal growth is an accepted norm. At many firms we choose teamwork, performing at a new level with smaller groups as embryo teams, capable of crossing functional areas and tagging necessary resources to complete a project. Often recommending their projects and working independently, the results from open collaboration clearly show the value of shared leadership to inspire performance and achieve innovation.
Programs providing Transition support encourage, assimilate and retain talented middle managers. The most valuable resource we can give a potential new hire, the newly promoted, or a manager seeking to renew skills is to provide the tools to evaluate personal success. The ‘soft skills’ of building relationships, creating personal networks, and improving basic communication skills such as feedback and presentations, have gained a renewed interest.
To sustain quality performance in our organizations we must provide the tools for those who are willing to take a risk by exposing them to what others have encountered. Knowing what to anticipate, they can prepare for common events. Accepting the transition as a dynamic phase of life gives them the confidence to work through the unexpected and exciting opportunities before them.
CONCLUSION – WHO LEADS?
Our culture is what binds us to each other – it is the force that engages, marks collaborative efforts and ignites innovation. Our leaders create the mission and the vision – much like spreading bread crumbs in hopes the flock will follow. It is the group in the middle – our middle managers – that decide what they will ingest or disregard. To lead, we must understand this group and exhibit that understanding by supporting a culture of trust and respect.
Why do middle managers matter? They are the essence of any business and the true change agents. Their needs are humble and genuine: allow them to succeed by providing consistency and allowing for flexibility. Engage members from all levels and occupations in embryo teams to recommend and pursue tasks they determine to be important to the organization’s success. Remove unnecessary levels of hierarchy replacing it with talent and organization development staff. Support cross-functional initiatives with proven value to achieve identifiable ROI in terms of personal and organization growth.
Allow me to share a story. When I was to be married, in honor of my husband’s Buddhist heritage we sought to incorporate a Taoist theme into the ceremony. One statement in the selected text caused me to delete it from the readings: “A wife leads by following ten paces behind her husband”. Several years later I found myself competing at a dog sled race. My husband and I were together holding the lead dog prior to a race start, watching the team as they excitedly waited to be off. When it was time for me to prepare for the start, encourage my team, and move to the sled, I had one of those moments of enlighten. I clearly recalled the ceremony’s text as I counted the 10 paces it took to walk from the lead dog, past the team, to take my stand on the sled runners.
It is not necessary to be out front to lead. Leadership comes to those who earn the right to lead by offering and then receiving first understanding, then respect and finally trust. Just as we shout the start of the sled dog race with a “Let’s Go”, this is our call to build trusting working relationships vital to meet the changes and challenges ahead.
Best wishes for continued success, LM
As an executive coach and consultant for twenty years, I’ve learned a few techniques for observing leaders. These help me recognize clients with a high potential for success as well as those who seem to be stuck on a losing streak. Such techniques may hold value to executive teams and corporate boards seeking to select and develop future leaders. And they may also be useful for leaders conducting a self-evaluation.
Just as a good detective seeks clues, it is important for those who are selecting or developing leaders to be able to spot a weakness in time to contain it or refocus the individual.
I wonder if others have witnessed a formerly successful business person floundering yet refusing to trust decision-making and problem-solving to others. This is a strong clue: a need to emphasize personal value by creating new problems only he or she can resolve.
A good example is when a business has grown so fast that the founding entrepreneur begins to feel unnecessary. This ambitious individual knows that taking action is the best way to work through a problem situation. By forging ahead and making rapid-fire decisions, it is easy to forget that the process of growing yields failures as well as successes. Accustomed to being the winner, a business leader focused on doing rather than learning may become ensnared in what could become a self-destructive pattern.
How do you recognize the signals of someone who has closed himself or herself off to learning? Following are the top four key concepts I employ when considering a new client. Executives might find it useful as a self-checklist or to screen candidates for key leadership roles.
Simply answer each question quickly, without contemplation, and then give yourself one point for every question you answered yes and two points for every question you answered no.
- Question #1: Are you replaceable?
- Question #2: Do you trust your employees?
- Question #3: Do you involve a cross-section of your staff in key decisions?
- Question #4: Do you get your “money’s worth” from high paid staff?
Scores above 5 may be a clue that one is caught in a losing cycle. Let’s look at each question with an example of how the various approaches can affect business success.
Are you replaceable?
There is always more than one way to do something, and there is always someone who can replace us. This concept hit the owner of a manufacturing firm like a physical blow. His firm had experienced outstanding growth, but then a personal crisis forced him to think about retirement as a viable option. Within a week of considering life without work, he decided that the company needed to re-brand and the firm had to acquire a new division. These huge reactive decisions brought chaos to the firm, jeopardizing the business and requiring him to invest long hours to deal with the new problems. He succeeded at pushing back all thoughts of retirement for many years.
[callout1]Avoid having your ego so close to your position that when your position falls, your ego goes with it.
– Colin Powell[/callout1]
Do you trust your employees?
Lack of trust in your employees is a self-fulfilling prophecy. As a manager, your job is to develop your people: Your success rests on their success. A quick clue that a newly on-boarded senior manager will have difficulty assimilating is a lack of attempt to develop rapport with existing staff.
In one case, a manager immediately replaced existing direct reports with colleagues enticed from companies he had worked for in the past. He built a team with people he thought he knew and trusted, choosing to not engage or form relationships with peers and indirect reports at the new firm. His team did not build relationships with other teams or learn the corporation’s culture, history or mores. His new team was unable to recognize or draw upon existing resources or past leanings, working in isolation without support. The team’s projects continually failed.
Within two years the manager and his entire team left the company.
[callout1]We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.
– Herman Melville[/callout1]
Do you involve a cross-section
of your staff in key decisions?
Good decisions sprout from equal parts of dissension and humor. A team composed of individuals with diverse backgrounds will challenge and inspire, opening new doors that one mind alone cannot fathom. One manager sought to expand her company and intuitively hired an experienced COO whose personality was completely different from hers. Unfortunately, when he started to present new approaches and question past practices, she rejected any ideas that questioned the status quo. Annoyed by the multitude of options presented, she eventually replaced the COO with someone who had been on staff for years. The company’s profitability rose briefly and has since settled slightly below its previous norm.
[callout1]It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.
– St. Francis of Assisi[/callout1]
Do you get your “money’s worth”
from your high-paid staff?
Assigning a dollar value or establishing a return on investment is always complicated, particularly for the manager who wants to see the results for every dollar spent. Ignoring the intangible benefits of planning and gathering resources, this type of leader will assign tasks that are easy to evaluate and, in their simplicity, lack depth. For example, seeking to gain media presence, one company president rejected the need to build a foundation for a marketing program as being too costly, demanding that an article about a specific topic appear in the local paper every month.
The result was an illusion of success: the effort did not achieve the company’s marketing goals and lacked client retention or follow-up.
[callout1]As the fletcher whittles and makes straight his arrows, so the master directs his straying thoughts.
The one common thread in all of the situations presented here is that these are talented people with the drive to succeed – without knowing where to direct their efforts.
As a manager’s success grows, confidence blossoms, sometimes overshadowing the need for continued personal and professional development. The resulting clue is when the leader refuses to take advice from team members, inadvertently creating a wall to knowledge exchange.
Perhaps we forget our limitations with each success. Questioning ourselves, challenging our assumptions and radically changing our routine as well as our environment may be necessary to remind us who we are and what we are seeking. There is always something new to learn. Achieving your goal is just the beginning of the journey: Use your experiences to continue to develop and succeed.
[callout1]Learning becomes powerful when ignited by experience and understanding.
– Lucille Maddalena[/callout1]
Plan Your Transition as a New Leader
We all fail in isolation. Many of the C-level executives I coach find it difficult to establish open communication with others and restrictions inherent in the position prevent a free exchange of information. Recognizing both your strengths and weaknesses allows you to make informed decisions regarding your behavior, interpersonal relationships and assessment of risk.
The dynamic executive creates an environment of trust that permits feedback, honest assessment and mutual respect. These are the tools to prevent silos, evaluate risk and make informed decisions.
When transitioning into a new leadership position it is critical to create an environment of learning and support. To accomplish this, feedback should not be regulated to issue of performance.
Feedback should identify weak behaviors and effective behaviors to enable the receiver to determine exactly what actions were detrimental, the impact of those actions on you, and how different actions will benefit all involved.
To encourage your staff to give you feedback, consider introducing the concept of on-going feedback with an anonymous feedback questionnaire. You might find that you solicit the same reaction as one of my clients did when he was assigned to a new location and a new team. He created a feedback questionnaire to monitor how his new staff evaluated his performance, informing his staff that for him to succeed, he had to know what he was doing right and what he could do differently to improve. He distributed a two-page a list of questions, asking his staff to complete the form and return it the next day: it was up to them if they chose to supply their name or remain anonymous.
The first time he distributed the questionnaire to his staff of 27 he received 5 completed forms, all anonymous and offering valuable observations. He shared the observations with the group and asked for their help to monitor his ability to address the behaviors mentioned.
Six months later he distributed the same questionnaire, receiving 18 completed forms, three of which were signed! Again he shared the results and asked for support to adapt the new behaviors, and again after another six month distributed the form for the third time. This time the results were surprising. Several individuals requested to meet with him privately. They brought the form with them uncompleted and unsigned, sat in his office, and said they would prefer to tell him directly what they were observing. He was thrilled and felt he had succeeded at his goal. There is an interesting follow-up to this tale: within two years this manager was promoted and has since risen to a C-level position in his firm and continues the practice with every new team he creates. 10 QUESTIONS TO ASK
Whether I am working with an Executive who has achieved a C-level post or a newly appointed manager, there key management skills that you can incorporate into a Feedback Questionnaire to help you successfully transition into that new position.
- Are instructions clear or do you often feel confused and uncertain where to begin a task?
- Are you confident that I will listen to a new idea you may have?
- Do you sense I am stressed and make decisions as if in crisis too often?
- Once I assign a task, do I regularly ask you to stop and alter the assignment?
- When you make a mistake, do I tell you what you did right as well as what has to be changed?
- Do I support your growth by allowing you to develop new skills?
- When you need to talk to me, are you able to schedule a few minutes?
- When I change your work, do the changes have value or are they perceived as changes for change sake?
- Do you trust me?
- Do you feel I respect you?
If you feel the above list is overwhelming, try this approach: chose one person who is important to you — a direct report, peer or boss — and ask for one piece of feedback. Tell them to take their time, and when they are ready to offer you just one observation that they feel will benefit your performance and support of their work, to please share it with you.
When the intent of feedback is respectful and genuine sharing of information, there is a better chance that the person getting the feedback will be motivated to begin, continue, or stop behaviors that affect performance.
When that individual approaches you and offers the feedback, thank them. They have taken the time to think about what is important to you. Explain that you appreciate the information and would like to think about it, then get back to them. Here is the important step for you: be certain you get back to them. Discuss with them the value you gained form the feedback and what action steps you plan to take. Ask them to kindly monitor your actions and let them know if they see any change.
YOUR FEEDBACK SUCCESS
I am interested in learning how others have used feedback to advance in their career. If you have a good story to share about how you used feedback to overcome an issue, build support from others or achieve at your career, please send me a note. I will gladly share your story with others!
What can we do when we are seeking agreement, attempting to guide our team through change, or tasked with moving a project forward—and it seems that everyone has their own direction, away from consensus? Odds are we all know at least one top executive who would overlook the ‘soft skills’ of better communication and instead issue a ‘slap to the back of the head’ by saying “come on, let’s get this together” then proceed to implement his/her idea without considering options.
We’ll come back to address the expectations of our top executives after considering what it takes to get to know our team. Once we share a perspective on what we call a team, you can explore ways to put what you know about your team members to work, to reach a decision that satisfies at least the majority of the group and supports (or at least does not in any way negatively impact) the company’s directive. You will also discover that the skills in need are not “soft”, instead require confidence and personal strength.
WHEN DOES A TEAM FORM?
You will know if it is a team at the moment when everyone has their paddles in the water and is aiming for the same shoreline.
- What can you do when one or even a few members of the group seem to be forcing the entire team off-track?
- How can you get others to focus on what you think is important when they seem to be stuck in the weeds?
For sports analogies, I find it best to work from my experience to help make a point. In this case, dog sled racing holds the best example to share my ‘ah-Ha’ moment. That takes me to the point when the dogs are hooked to the sled and waiting for the start, they are jumping and howling, excited and anxious to begin. Each dog brings an abundance of energy and its specific role to play on the team. Once the starting shot has been fired we had to move in unison to set pace and direction.
With animals whose time and attention I control, we are able to spend hours practicing on the trails to expose then break bad habits and learn how to work together. I probably learned more working with those dogs on the trail than I did during the years in academia: the issues were real, immediate and in your-face, lacking the subterfuge humans employ to camouflage weaknesses and fears.
It was the time together that made the difference: it’s why many high powered groups sequester themselves away for a week or just a weekend to build teams and develop strategy. Think about the number of hours your team has worked together: do members have a history or are they all new to one another? At what point do the individual contributors from a united team? What can you do to bring them together if you do not have the time/reserves for a team building workshop or seminar on feedback?
My suggestion is to go back to basics and start with one person. Whether you know them and have worked with them in the past is not relevant: we all carry baggage and a legacy and everyone is aware of the 30 seconds it takes to judge someone for the first time. Begin again with a new relationship and show them the person you want to be in this project by introducing yourself outside of the meeting. You can get to know them by being open and sharing.
FEAR OF RISK
When I offer this suggestion to many top-level executives I am often rebuffed with claims that
- “I am open and have an open door policy”;
- “I have friends at home, this is work”;
- “I don’t want everyone at work to know everything about me.”
As an Executive Coach for over twenty years, I continue to be amazed at how confident executives who can risk millions on a business deal show signs of personal insecurity and avoid the risk of sharing with others. If you’re not yet in the top ranks and see yourself exhibiting these tendencies, now is the time to develop your skills at forming relationships.
The folks I am typically called in to work with are experienced and successful: they have reached a plateau in their career as a senior leader. By way of their position they are assumed to be role models for those below them. Unfortunately the isolation they created for themselves on their way up the corporate ladder does not work when compared to today’s description of a leaders as “genuine, humble and honest”. Today’s leaders have a whole boatload of expectations and behaviors to meet—many are approaches to relationships they were able to ignore in the past as they drove their way to success.
Those decisive traits formed momentum in teams and got the job done ‘their way’ then: it just doesn’t work with today’s high potential employees. In the past, a boss may have issued a theoretical ‘slap to the side of the head’ to get people on-track. In today’s high level strategy sessions leaders are expected to put aside the formerly successful rough-edged ‘get the job done’ decision-maker approach.
Scrutinized by standards that did not exist a mere ten years ago, leaders are required to function as role models capable of smoothly employing interpersonal skills, tact and experience to guide groups to form consensus.
Few leaders can completely satisfy the image we have created for today’s leaders. The good leaders who are most stressed by these requirements are those who missed developing an appreciation for the value of forming trust-based relationships as well as the ability to give and respect. Just as in a playground, there are some who find it easier to revert to the child-like role of being a bully to cover insecurity.
If bully-inclined leaders were capable of thinking beyond their own fears they would know that fear doesn’t win races. You don’t run a dog team out of fear – just like people who feel they’ve been treated unfairly; they’ll find a time to turn on you. Sled dogs are similar to human long-distance runners: team runners respect their team mates for their drive and skill just as a dog driver respects the team for their commitment and talent. No need to coax a runner to participate: a sled dog will race you to their spot on the line impatiently waiting to get harnessed to the rig.
Some top executives learned the hard way that fear is not a motivator and lack of respect drives people away. Many have their own examples proving that negative pressure and disregard for personal goals may get results in the short term: in time the pendulum always swings back to hit you when you’re least expecting it. Without commitment based on mutual respect, problems are not reported, planning failures not anticipated, and results for achievement are not shared by all.
POWER & RESPECT
Our greatest leaders, from Mother Theresa to Martin Luther King showed us how we can impact others; change our world, by engaging others in support of our mission and vision. A leader’s ability to influence others can only exist when there is mutual respect. As a leader gains respect, a greater number of people will seek to support their goals sharing their power and dedication to succeed. In the same way, losing the respect of others results in losing the respect of others and the power to further goals.
The brave individual may not consider routine events such as revealing a weakness or mistake as important just as the hero in adversity may not consider risk before acting to help someone in danger. Perhaps it starts with trusting ourselves to be spontaneous: to be in the moment. There is a freedom and confidence connected with allowing ourselves to explore our shortcomings as well as our strengths. Extending that freedom to allow ourselves to empathize with others permits us to observe the strengths and weakness of someone without judgment and thus learn from their experiences to add to our understanding.
The next time you are rushed to make a decision, on the fast-track to complete a task, anxious to win the support of your colleagues—stop to observe the reaction of others to you. You will read in their faces your chances of success:
- You will probably lose if you choose to be blunt, not show empathy or regard for the opinion and value of others. If you try to plow ahead with your goals as the rallying flag, you are probably in for a long battle.
- You stand a better chance of winning if you have invested the time to prepare the other person to trust your judgment by first learning from them and empathizing with their goals. If you have trust and rapport, you stand a good chance of achieving your ‘quick win’.
You cannot win in a silo—there is no one in there with you to recognize your success. Stay involved, build connections and create trusted relationships up, down and with peers in your organization. Organizations, like people, constantly evolve. You are better prepared to make the next transition by having trusted colleagues, mentors and role models available to test your hypothesis and give you the gift of feedback.
Best wishes for continued success, LM