Shenaz N. Malik and Joseph R. Roberson
University of Maryland, Baltimore County
December 10, 2014
Technological progress occurs at an ever-increasing rate, changing not only the speed of business but the very nature of how business is conducted. In response to these changes, a new paradigm of leadership has emerged in which leaders actively foster leadership capabilities in employees throughout the organization. Unlike its predecessors, the new paradigm acknowledges that employees at various levels must exercise leadership skills in order for the entire organization to adapt to constant change; in effect, for the organization to become a learning organization, where adaptation, creativity, and renewal occurs not only top-down, but also bottom up (Watkins, Marsick, & Faller, 2012). Transformative learning (TL) is one theory gaining traction for developing leaders capable of fostering the multi-level leadership capabilities critical to navigating the new order of business. Leadership development (LD) initiatives that foster transformative learning have been shown to have a positive impact on executive performance (Ciporen, 2008). Belias and Koustelios conclude that “transformational leadership seems not only to influence job satisfaction, but also to determine job commitment” (Belias & Koustelios, 2014). However, Transformative Learning remains a controversial framework due to questions regarding the deliverability of successful Transformative Learning programs and the challenges of quantifying transformative change. This paper discusses these issues and explores why Transformative Learning will continue to evolve as an important framework for developing the next generation(s) of leaders.
KEYWORDS: Transformative Learning, Leadership Development, Leadership, Organizational Learning, Organizational Development
Transformative Learning in Leadership Development
Although leadership development has been discussed as far back as Plato’s The Republic, the modern concept of leadership development in organizations emerged in the mid-twentieth century, when war disrupted the established leadership structures. While experienced leaders were away at war, leadership within businesses fell to people ill-prepared to lead or supervise (Estep, 2008, p. 16). What followed were decades of attempts to understand what leadership is and how to teach it. Through the 1940s, leadership development focused on the development of personality characteristics and traits. When this proved inadequate, various approaches were tried: leadership styles, teaching desired leadership behaviors, and later (in the 1990s), when technological advances demanded different business structures, developing leadership competencies came into play (Hernez-Broome & Hughes, n.d.).
Leadership development, while always important to organizations, became a critical need for businesses during the late 1990s. Simply stated by Hernez-Broome & Hughes (n.d.), “The effective use of technology is proving to be a ‘hierarchy buster’” (p. 30). The emerging digital age provided new ways of conducting business and created new pathways for communication at all levels of an organization. As Marvin Weisbord describes it (2008, pp. 336-342), in one century, the mainstream business model has swung back and forth between who provides leadership, but never in exactly the same formula, as is seen in Table 1:
The digital age not only made it possible for everyone to participate, it made participation essential. Suddenly, at the dawn of the 21st century, leadership was needed not just ‘at the top’, but also at every level of the organization. And the nature of this new leadership is markedly different from what has come before. As Peter Drucker noted in the early years of this paradigm shift, “In the traditional organization—the organization of the last one hundred years—the skeleton or internal structure was a combination of rank and power. In the emerging organization, it has to be understanding and responsibility [emphasis added]” (Drucker, 1995, p. xxvii). We have all seen how every company (and every individual) is no more than a few mouse-clicks away from either laud or scandal. Very quickly, leadership development is moving from developing competencies (another list of items to check off) to engaging the whole person in leadership development. That is, leadership development is evolving towards developing an authentic person who has identifiable integrity and character.
It’s no surprise, then, that the transformative learning theory that Jack Mezirow began formulating in 1975 is now gaining significant traction in leadership development. Transformative learning theory (TL) began with Mezirow’s urging “the recognition of a critical dimension of learning in adulthood that enables us to recognize, reassess, and modify the structures of assumptions and expectations that frame our tacit points of view and influence our thinking, beliefs, attitudes, and actions” (Mezirow, 2009, p. 18). This critical dimension of transformative learning is fundamental to increased understanding and responsibility, identified by Drucker as essential for the emerging organization.
However, as we discuss in this paper, transformative learning as a framework for leadership development is not without its problems. One glaring problem, for instance, is that there is no good way (as yet) to directly measure whether a learner has indeed had a transformative experience. Assuming a transformative experience, measures for the effective transference of learning into the workplace are lacking, or at best may be characterized as nascent. And we know how business likes quantitative measure. Yet another criticism of (or obstacle to) transformative learning is that it takes time (Taylor, 2014). And we know how business has little patience for time-consuming processes.
All this is to say that the workplace has been upended by our own success with technologies, that the new workplace requires yet another stab at defining and developing leadership, and that transformative learning is at least in part a valid way to address the present and future needs for strong leadership in workplace with VUCA–high volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.
Defining Leaders and Leadership
We don’t have enough strong leaders.
We can’t even define the term. -Wagner, 2014, p. 1.
This quote by David Wagner (2014) succinctly states a problem that has long frustrated the business world. Who (or what) is a leader? What is leadership? How are they different? While there are no final definitions, we are all familiar with ones that go something like this one from Theodore Roosevelt: The best executive is the one who has sense enough to pick good men to do what he wants done, and self-restraint enough to keep from meddling with them while they do it (quoted in Wagner, 2014, p. 1); or perhaps this one: The only definition of a leader is someone who has followers (quoted in Wagner, 2014, p. 1).
As Wagner points out, these definitions (and dozens other he collected for his commentary) are woefully inadequate. The first definition suffers from vagueness. The second definition is in the past tense so that leadership can only ever be identified after the fact. That is, some evaluation must happen before we can call it leadership. A good definition for leadership “must be constructed in the present tense so that it can be used as a criterion to decide if some process is leadership or, alternatively, something else” (Rost, 1993, p. 99). Joseph Rost points out that the terms leader and leadership have been used synonymously – both in business and in business development. (T&D). The terms manager and leader have also been used interchangeably. These clarifications/definitions are presented here not because we believe them to be “correct” but because this usage was prevalent in what Rost would call the 20th century industrial paradigm.
A New Definition of Leaders and Leadership
As Rost predicted in the 1990s, the paradigm has shifted to a post-industrial paradigm: a paradigm of knowledge-based business. So, while we do continue to manufacture bulbs and clothes and widgets, the way those traditional industrial businesses (and all other businesses) conduct their business and solve their problems has changed dramatically. Indeed, the constant evolution of technology is helping to continue the trend “towards a greater dependence on knowledge, information and high skill levels, and the increasing need for ready access to all of these by the business and public sectors” (OECD, 2005, para. 71).
In the industrial-age of the 20th century, we can find countless examples of the vertical style of leadership where there are fixed leaders and fixed followers, as in Drucker’s traditional “rank and power” hierarchy. Take, for example railroads (where org charts originated) and the military, where the vertical chain of command defines the institution. In the new paradigm, leadership is increasingly horizontal. That is, leadership is now a more fluid activity or process where an individual at any level of the organization may act as a change agent, may ‘do’ leadership. Where in the past leadership development was reserved for distinct leaders, now leadership development is a skill and a practice needed at multiple levels, at least as far down as first-time managers (Rost, 1993, pp. 97-98).
For the purposes of this paper, we define leadership as a social process, as a creative act carried out via communication, within conversation and dialogue. Leadership is an act of influence, no matter who does it. We define a leader as a person who practices leadership rather than as a person designated as a Leader merely by rank, title, or position. Our working definition of leadership is:
Leadership is inspiring others to pursue a vision of a preferred future, to the extent that manifesting that future becomes a shared effort, a shared vision, and a shared success.
-adapted from Steve Zeitchik’s definition (cited in Mielach, 2012, p. 1?).
Belias and Koustelios (2014) define transformational leadership as the style of leadership by those who “motivate their subordinates to perform at a higher level by inspiring them, offering them intellectual challenges and paying attention to their individual needs” (p. ?). This is in opposition to transactional leadership where leaders “engage in a process of negotiation, offering subordinates rewards in exchange for the achievement of specific goals and completion of agreed-upon tasks” (Belias & Koustelios, 2014, p. ?). While the transactional leadership style can be effective, it tends to be relatively impersonal whereas the transformational style engages leader and followers in a deeper way. Transformational leadership is based on the idea of leadership as a relationship of influence from leader to follower. This more personal engagement relies upon authenticity more than the transactional style, and thus upon greater integrity and authenticity on the part of the leader (see Table 2). Transformative leadership development cultivates these intrapersonal and interpersonal qualities and competencies.
To reiterate: Lleader development in the old paradigm, wherein only experts solve problems, was provided only to upper-level executives and other titular Lleaders, plus those few candidates identified as future Leaders. The new paradigm, wherein everybody improves whole systems, requires leadership development for many, if not all, members of the organization. The foregoing aids understanding as to why leadership development typically begins during training for first-time managers.
While distinguishing the difference between managing and leading is important, it is critical to point out that the first transformative experience encountered on the way towards leadership is likely to be while a rookie manager. Transformative learning can be even more dramatic during this transition than after one has ascended to the executive suite. As Linda Hill puts it, “…the first managerial assignment is a pivotal developmental experience for future executives. It is when an executive’s basic philosophy and leadership style are shaped” (Hill, 2004). Each of these, first-time manager training and executive leadership training, is the subject of extensive research into transformative learning in leadership development.
The success of the human species is due in large measure to a highly evolved capacity for learning. Up until the advent of artificial intelligence, no other system could compete with the human capacity to learn. Our domination of the world and its resources is a direct result of this ability. Although often thought of as an exclusively human activity, learning can and does occur in many organisms, and even in non-living systems both natural and man-made. Learning occurs whenever and wherever a system’s internal organization and/or external behavior undergoes a lasting, adaptive change in service of a preferred future. Learning is, simply put, a process of adaptation undertaken in order to improve functioning (Piaget, 1974).
Learning occurs along a continuum ranging from the kind of everyday learning that simply adds one more bit of information to existing knowledge to the kind of epochal learning that ‘rocks our world’ and radically alters our worldview. Along this continuum, we can mark three specific levels of learning: informative, formative, and transformative. Most T&Dtraining and development, and, in fact, most education of any kind, occurs within the first level of informative learning, in which we add information and skills. This is the domain of cognitive and psychomotor learning. The second level, formative learning, is where we learn cultural rules of engagement, emotional intelligence, and interpersonal skills. This is the domain of affective and interpersonal learning. Each of these threeTjese two levels of learning is associated with specific objectives and outcomes, as outlined in Table 3.
The third level, transformative learning, occurs when a crisis, a critical incident, a wicked problem characterized by VUCA, by as any ‘disorienting dilemma,’ that cannot be successfully resolved by applying any knowledge structure or acting from any mental map or conceptual model already in place. Transformative learning requires critical self-reflection: reviewing, revising, unlearning, or otherwise arriving at a new, unprecedented way of framing the problem as a prelude to formulating a new personal paradigm.
Although John (Jack) Mezirow began developing his Transformative Learning Theory in 1975 in his doctoral dissertation, it was not until after his 1990 publication of Fostering Critical Reflection in Adulthood, followed the next year by publication of Transformative Dimensions of Adult Learning, that transformative learning theory became widely known. Of great importance is that TL is a process by which…
…we transform our taken-for-granted frames of reference (meaning perspectives, habits of mind, mindsets) to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open, emotionally capable of change, and reflective so that they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove more true or justified to guide action.
-(Mezirow & Associates, 2000)
These three definitions help us get a clearer understanding of Mezirow’s Transformative Learning Theory:
The process of using a prior interpretation to construe a new or revised interpretation of the meaning of one’s experience in order to guide future action (Mezirow, 1996, p. 162).
A deep, structural shift in basic premises of thought, feeling, and actions (Transformative Learning Centre, 2004, quoted in (Kitchenham, 2008).
Unlike informative learning, which increases what people know and adds to their skills by bringing new knowledge to an existing worldview and frame of reference, transformative learning gives people an awareness of the basic structures in which they know, think, and act. (Landmark Worldwide, n.d.)
Without getting unnecessarily technical, it needs to be pointed out that not all transformative learning is earth-shattering; that kind is just the easiest to recognize. It could be as simple as reflecting upon one’s upset over spilled milk, leading to the realization that the spilled milk, in fact, merely triggered a preexisting, maladaptive reaction pattern. If one then is then able to change this pattern in future instances of ‘spilled milk’ to a more healthy, adaptive response, then transformative learning has occurred. Mezirow originally described this process of transformation in ten phases (shown in Table 4). Recognizing that there are different levels and types of transformative experiences, Mezirow later added an 11th phase—“Altering present relationships and forging new relationships”—that adults go through when experiencing a perspective, rather than a personal transformation (Kitchenham, 2008).
While the influences on the formulation of Mezirow’s theory are many, the one that is germane to this discussion is that of Piaget. The crucible of transformative learning lies in the contrast between two very different forms of learning that Piaget labeled assimilation and accommodation. Assimilation is the relatively simple process of adding new information to an existing mental map. Accommodation, on the other hand, is the more radical process of modifying or replacing an existing mental map because the old one is no longer sufficient. In Table 3, Levels of Learning, assimilation equals informative learning while accommodation is transformative learning.
Assimilation is appropriate when a new fact or piece of knowledge content fits into an existing mental model; assimilation is inappropriate, becomes maladaptive, if this new fact or piece of knowledge content does not fit into any existing mental model but is distorted in order to make it fit. This happens all the time and can be described as “driving by the rearview mirror.”
Leadership means engaging your organization in transformative learning
A corporation is a manmade system. As with any system, a corporation’s survival depends upon effective adaptation. In other words, a corporation must learn in order to survive. Leadership is key to adaptation because it is the process by which an organization orients itself to current and future circumstances. While it is the role of a manager to see to it that policies and procedures are followed, it is the role of leadership to formulate and communicate strategy. Due in large measure to technological progress, “. . . modern organisations face challenges that are unprecedented in complexity and scale. The globalisation of international trade is creating more complex flows of people, goods, funds, and technology across national and political boundaries” (DeRue, Sreitzer, Flanagan, & Allen, 2013, p. ?).
In such an atmosphere of flux, the organization must adapt–must learn–in a New York second, and the success of constant adaptation lies in the strength of its leaders—appointed and naturally emergent (Watkins, Marsick & Faller, 2012). As we discussed, neither informative nor formative learning can adequately prepare organizations to respond effectively to such turbulent times: transformative learning can.
Putting it All Together: Transformative Learning for Leadership Development
The value of any training—including Transformative Learning in Leadership Development—is customarily gauged by quantifiable results that can be unequivocally attributed to the training. One of the primary objectives of Dr. Ruth Ciporen’s study of a month-long executive retreat based on a transformative learning framework was to prove that TL actually has measurable benefits once a participant returns to the job. That is, Ciporen sought to measure whether a “personally transformative learning” experience then transfers/translates to workplace performance. According to Ciporen (2008), “Interviews with participants and statistical analysis of 360-degree feedback scores suggest that undergoing personally transformative learning had a positive effect on a wide set of executive competencies. Deep personal change led to more positive interactions with others; together, these improvements on both the individual and interpersonal levels facilitated better handling of business challenges…and helped executives in team-building, leading change, and approaching business challenges from a fresh, more inclusive perspective” (Ciporen, 2008p. ?).
Belias and Koustelios (2014), in their study of “the relation between transformational leadership and the levels of job satisfaction experienced by bank employees,” conclude that “In the banking sector, transformational leadership has proven to be quite appropriate and effective, having a positive influence on several aspects, like employees’ performance, job satisfaction, and job commitment” (Belias & Koustelios, 2014p. ?).
Examples of how transformative learning in leadership development can help individuals, and the organizations they are part of, perform beyond their self-imposed limitations can be found in The Three Laws of Performance: Reinventing the Future of Your Organization and Your Life, written by Steve Zaffron and Dave Logan. In the book, the authors describe their consulting work with organizations to develop leaders who transform their organizations from the inside out, and from the top to the very bottom. Their work with Lonmin, Plc, a South African company which is the third-largest producer of titanium in the world, demonstrates how transformative leadership can start from a toxic, dangerous situation with a bleak future and transform the organization into a healthy culture with a new future of collective success. The exchange (reproduced in Appendix A) between a white senior manager, trained in conducting dialogue for transformative learning, and a black worker during a large meeting provides a striking example of transformative leadership in action. What is remarkable about the story is how every person at Lonmin, regardless of title or rank, was engaged in the process, how each and every person was invited to participate in rewriting a more desirable future. Through the process of leadership, followers were asked to share their ideas and insights, and to advise management on how to improve performance. Every person was invited to ‘do’ leadership. The resulting new organization can be characterized as a learning organization, one that constantly listens for both external and internal messages about current conditions and then takes appropriate action towards a future that is shared. A simple way to describe such a learning organization is to say that every member is ‘making the same movie.’ The work contract is transformed: rather than a transactional relationship where my labor is ‘rented’ by the company for a paycheck, I get to participate with a group who are all committed to a shared future, one we all have a say in.
Zaffron and Logan provide excellent examples of transformative learning in practice. Following their three laws of performance (reproduced fully in Appendix B), Zaffron and Logan seek to help organizations transform their future performance by facilitating critical group dialogue. They engage in a process for bringing to light individuals’ heretofore unexamined ideas, notions, assumptions, and expectations–in order to see how current performance correlates exactly with these unexamined notions. It is only after these notions have been examined critically, through sharing them with the group, that the default future, which had seemed ineluctable, can be transformed into the possibility of a fresh, newly-created, preferred future.
Challenges to delivering Transformative Learning in Leadership Development
Transformative Llearning happens naturally, spontaneously, and in diverse settings. It is a natural occurrence for adults as they make developmental progress through the hierarchy of needs (Maslow, date?). One of the biggest challenges to implementing TL noted in the literature is that learning on such a deep level that is difficult, if not impossible, to cause to happen within the controlled conditions of a training event (Taylor, 2014). Transformative Llearning requires a deeper level of change to existing mental constructs than do informative or formative learning. Because TL necessarily challenges preexisting ideas, received notions, and cultural norms, it can be disorienting and emotionally upsetting. Therefore providing support to learners is essential. Yet, at the same time, the process, whether by the facilitator or fellow learners, must prod and challenge assumptions to expose and dislodge them. The balance between challenge and support must be orchestrated–the right amount of challenge here, the right amount of support there. Ciporen also points out that the design of successful TL programming needs to include supports before and after the training event, but particularly after. This is to offset the inevitable barriers to transfer that learners encounter back on the job.
Measuring the Impact of Transformative Learning on Leadership Development
Verifiable, quantifiable, repeatable measurement to establish cause and effect has long been the sine qua non of science. Business successfully adopted quantitative methods to invent, refine, and improve manufacturing, computing, and other engineering processes. Human resource management, as a term of art, would appear to reflect the attempt to apply this same paradigm to the effort of human performance improvement. Lately, however, the universal applicability of this paradigm has come into question, especially when what is being measured involves constant volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity: human social systems are, by default, volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous.
Transformative learning cannot be measured directly–can it? In fact, every measurement of learning is indirect: every knowledge and skill test is a measure of behavior, not learning. Learning is always measured by its effects. In the case of leadership development, the main thing of interest to the business is whether or not business performance is positively impacted. Yet, it would seem impossible to definitely assign causation of business outcomes on any leadership development intervention, transformative or otherwise. Even the case studies cited above rely on fuzzy measures. In short, evaluating the effectiveness of transformative learning in leadership development is an area of continuing debate and research. For an overview of some methods of such evaluation, see Advances in leader and leadership development: A review of 25 years of research and theory (Day, Fleenor, Atwater, Sturm, & McKee, 2013), as well as Virtuous cycles of learning: using formative, embedded, and diagnostic developmental assessments in a large-scale leadership program (Stein, Dawson, & Van Rossum, 2013).
“Researchers need to give serious thought to what is hypothesized to develop as a function of leader or leadership development in a given context. This may involve human capital kinds of variables related to individual knowledge, skills, and abilities, or it maybe things that are even more difficult to assess such as the psychosocial stage of adult development (i.e., orders of development) as proposed in constructive-developmental theory (McCauley et al., 2006). Adopting good outcomes (in place of job performance) to study models of leader and leadership development is also important. Of course, there should be a link between development and performance in a job or role but that is likely neither immediate nor straightforward” (Day, Fleenor, Atwater, Sturm, & McKee, 2013)
Discussion and Observations
From what we have explored in this paper, it is clear that the role of transformative learning in leadership development is, well, transforming. Questions arise, the answers to which will determine whether transformational learning will grow into an accepted mainstream theory or whether parts of the theory will find their way into existing frameworks.
Will organizational cultures become more accepting of a process that requires not just time, but a willingness of leaders to radically change their existing ways of thought. Those for whom the status quo works tend to resist change—can it be reasonably expected that a process requiring such depth of reflection will find more than a slim ledge of a foothold in the workplace?
Another question is whether the essence of TL will be lost as researchers and practitioners race to develop the evaluations and efficacy measures that are of such comfort for the accountability of a corporation. We have mentioned previously that much of learning is measured indirectly. However, whether real or imagined, we convince ourselves that quantitative measures (however indirect) are essential. Transformational learning, as we have seen in the leading-edge work of Ciporen and of Belias & Koustelios, appears thus far to be better measured through qualitative measures, leaving it open to serious questioning.
The first sentence of our abstract says “Technological progress occurs at an ever-increasing rate, changing not only the speed of business but the very nature of how business is conducted.“ We could say the same thing about leadership: technological progress has changed not only the speed of leadership communications, but also the very nature of how leadership is conducted. Social media tools have enabled all manner of leaders and followers to take actions that simply were not possible before. Take, for example, Twitter’s role in the Arab Spring uprising in Egypt. Would it have been successful without the instantaneous communication made possible by Twitter? Probably not.
In Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky points out you must have these three elements to attract followers to your cause: the promise, a tool to manifest the promise, and a bargain that followers will agree to. The promise is the most important part, for it is the narrative, the emotional hook, the story of a desired future that others find compelling. If you can appeal to followers in a way that connects with their authentic desires, their performance will align with that common, preferred future.
Another important change brought about acceleration and technological change is the lack of community or social connectedness workers get from their place of employment. If leaders can manage to create a community atmosphere, a culture that individuals want to be part of, their performance will naturally align with achieving the shared goals of the community. Seth Godin explains this basic human need this way:
A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate… Human beings can’t help it: we need to belong. One of the most powerful of our survival mechanisms is to be part of a tribe, to contribute to (and take from) a group of like-minded people. We are drawn to leaders and their ideas, and we can’t resist the rush of belonging and the thrill of the new. -Seth Godin, 2008. Tribes.
Transformative Learning in Leadership Development has a long way to go before it becomes a common practice. But because transformation is a fundamental process of adult development, and because it takes a mature adult to be a great leader, it may be ventured to say that Transformative Learning has a long future in all areas of education and training, but particularly in leadership development.
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Full text of Lonmin, Plc example of transformative from Zaffron & Logan, 2009.
Antoinette Grib, a white South African senior manager of Lonmin, was speaking to a group of about one hundred people when an elderly community member stood up, interrupted, and insisted on saying something to her. The woman, Selinah Makgale, began: “Antoinette, I have an issue with you.”
Grib’s shock was obvious. She said, “But I don’t even know you.”
Makgale continued, “Yes, I don’t know you personally, but you are a white South African woman, and I have an issue with white South African women. When I was thirteen years old, my parents told me that I needed to be the housekeeper for the white Afrikaans that owned the farm we worked on. It was payment for us working the farm. I was like a slave, not earning a cent. The woman, she was very, very bad to me. Getting through that year was tough. I’ve been hating white South African women ever since.” Makgale paused, then continued, “I’m sorry, even though I don’t know you, I’ve been sitting here for days hating you and all the other South African women. You probably weren’t even born when all this happened.”
Grib smiled and said, “No, I wasn’t.”
After another thoughtful moment, Makgale finished with: “Please accept my apology—you and all the other white South African women here. I apologize to you all for making you a faceless group and hating you.”
Some people became serious, others looked like they were remembering the past. Some shook their heads. All were visibly touched by Makgale’s courage and intent to close a chapter from the past.
The senior manager took the next step, saying,
Selinah, I see that I represent something to you with my blond hair and my blue eyes that caused so much pain in your life all those years ago. I ask your forgiveness for the mistakes my people made…. I think we’re fortunate to live in a country now, since 1994, where we can move forward and we can live together. I offer you my support in getting this issue completely resolved. If you want, I will go with you to visit the woman who treated you so poorly and see if there are some amends that can be made. We can try that.
Both women started to cry—one elderly, poor, and black, and one young, wealthy, and white. Makgale replied, “Yes, I am willing to do that. Thank you very much. I hope our future can grow better than before.” The group cheered.
The Three Laws of Performance
1. How people perform correlates to how situations occur to them.
a. A person’s performance always correlates to how the world is occuringoccurring to them.
b. “Performance is not always caused by or an effect of something, but rather is correlated to—or in a dance with—the way the world shows up for us. To say it again, performance is a result of how the world (or a situation, or a circumstance, or a person) occurs for us.”
2. How a situation occurs arises in language
a. How the world occurs in a person’s experience is determined by language, by interpretation, narrative, story, and spin, much more than by facts.
b. “The second law of performance has to do with the role of language. Oversimplified, the perspectives of “catch this ball, which we already know we can’t catch” and “calling out which way the ball is spinning, which we know we can do quite well” (same ball, same speed) lead to two totally different outcomes. Each perspective is constituted in language—it is in language that we articulate, define, and shape reality. It is the conversation in each game that yields completely different performance outcomes.
c. We carry such conversations around with us about how things are—how we or our corporations measure up, what’s possible and what isn’t, how things work, what we know to be true. When we say that things are a particular way, we become constrained and limited to what that reality allows—it’s just “the way it is.” To coin a phrase, it becomes an “is world,” and an “is world” has a particular design to it—it’s solid, fixed, and we have to adjust to it. We spend much of our lives struggling with “the way things are,” rather than savoring the malleability that a constitutive view of language can lend to our world. How things occur—occurring—is a linguistically based phenomenon. Language is integral to accessing breakthrough performance. But as posed in the first law, our actions are not correlated to an “is,” fixed, or static world; rather they are correlated to an “occurring” world.”
3. Future-based language transforms how situations occur to people.
a. How you are living in this here-and-now present moment is always colored by the future you imagine. This always-present future is part and parcel of this present moment. It does not and cannot exist anywhere other than in present-moment thinking. The problem is that it is unconscious. It is so unconscious we will fight against someone who points out that we are creating our future in our own image, even when we blame everybody but ourselves for how it’s going. Only someone skilled in generative, conscious future-based languaging can wake us up from the sleep of driving by the rearview mirror!
b. “The third law of performance has to do with future-based language. When we know it is our conversations that constitute our world, it shifts our relationship to what’s possible. It puts us in the driver’s seat. The shift doesn’t necessarily get rid of the lens or filters or mindsets per se, but fixed notions, old assumptions, old realities stop defining what’s possible and what’s not. We most commonly use and think of language in an experiential, descriptive, or representational way—as a response to the world, a process of fitting or matching our words to the world as we know it. Let’s call it a word-to-world fit. This use of language allows for certain outcomes, but not others. In a future-based model, language is used in a generative or contextual way, and is more than a response to the world. It yields completely different outcomes and is actually what brings the world into being—a world-to-word fit. In this model, language is both what gives rise to the world and what gives access to what is in that world.”
(Zaffron & Logan, 2009)
Shenaz N. Malik, Instructional Systems Development, UMBC
Joseph R. Roberson, Instrucional Systems Development, UMBC