Aligning for leadership inquiry _ Michigan Dept. Ed.

Aligning for leadership inquiry with the Michigan Deparmtment of Education (MDE)
CWA in collaboration with the Great Lakes Area Regional Resource Center (GLARRC) and the Michigan Department of Education conducted a six-month inquiry on the subject of transformational leadership for the department of education. The inquiry was guided by the three principles of transformational leadership enunciated in the paper by Magliocca and Christakis titled “A transformational leadership process through the voice and spirit of the people,” published in 2002 in “Systems Research and Behavioral Science.” The theory of transformational leadership is founded on the three principles described below.The Three Principles of the Transformational Leadership Process

The theory emerges from the practice of Interactive Management (Warfield & Cardenas, 1994) in the research tradition of “grounded theory” (Glaser & Strauss, 1967). To propose a transformational leadership process as a grounded theory, the methodology of Interactive Management and the CogniScope, applied in well over 400 projects in a 30 year period (Christakis, 1973, 1987, 1993, 1996; Warfield & Cardenas, 1994, Christakis & Brahms, 2003), are tapped as the basis for an extensive and rich pattern of knowledge to inform the construction of this theory. Interactive Management’s thoroughly constructed theoretical base, documented in The Science of Generic Design: Managing Complexity Through Systems Design (Warfield, 1994), locates its practice with similar theoretical underpinnings of other ‘systemic- pluralistic’ approaches, such as Social Systems Design (Banathy, 1996; Churchman, 1971), Interactive Planning (Ackoff, 1981), and Soft Systems Methodology (Checkland, 1981). An understanding of transformational leadership in all these methodologies is a perennial goal.

Three principles incorporate transformational leadership into the CogniScope System’s approach to group work:

  • The context of mutual purpose invites commitment.
  • The content of intended real change must be generated and interrelated by the stakeholders.
  • The process of languaging through open and focused dialogue is the means to establish democratic influence relations among the stakeholders. (Christakis, 1996)

In complex systems design work, we have found facilitative assistance is necessary to establish the triad of group learning: context, content, and process. Each group is confronted with resolving what may be a tacit understanding of the context, content, and process of engaging in their group task. The barriers to the emergence of transformational leadership through group work are formidable. Many groups flounder in unexamined assumptions and the conflicts that surface when assumptions are not made explicit. Until the context, content, and process distinctions of the group’s tasks are managed properly through the use of the CogniScope process, the likelihood of transformational leadership emerging through a group’s work is not high.

It is our experience that the transformational leadership process is an emergent phenomenon of group learning. Transformational leadership is the spiritual connection among the individuals of a group when a consciousness emerges that “…entails a reflection enabling us to see that as human beings we have only the world which we create with others–whether we like them or not.” (Maturana & Varela, 1987, p.246) In the numerous applications of the CogniScope System, we have witnessed transformational leadership emerge in a variety of situations with various groups. In managing the distinctions among the context, content, and process as described above, transformational leadership has been nurtured in group work, such as in the case of the Michigan Department of Education presented below. The transformational leadership process represents a spiritual connection of group members that emerges only when a sense of commitment and shared responsibility have a chance to occur spontaneously.

Thirty stakeholder representatives and eight observers from different units within the Michigan Department of Education (MDE) involved in the Aligning for Leadership (A4L) Initiative described fifty-nine challenges to improving value-driven leadership to external stakeholders in helping teachers teach and children learn, and proposed more than sixty action options for addressing these challenges. The representatives were engaged in a collaborative action-planning session that was designed and conducted employing the CogniScope methodology. Majority convergence was achieved on five important actions as the highest priority. These are:

  • Identify all items/documents that require approval, review current approval process and put together a team to streamline each process;
  • Appoint an internal steering committee to guide the implementation of aligning for leadership action plans;
  • Build a communication unit of staff that would seek knowledgeable sources for information distribution to the field and have as one of their priorities keeping department staff up-to-date on issues;
  • Provide mentoring to new employees at every level to help induct them into the best of culture, history and policy background of MDE; and
  • Carry out the action plans which are developed here because actions speak louder than words.

The Forum of January 6 & 7, 2004. represents a highly leveraged step towards achieving these ends. The Superintendent expressed a long-term commitment as well as a desire for collaborative action in launching and implementing the Forum findings and recommendations.

Before the Forum, interviews and a limited review of internal MDE documents and staff survey results had identified a wide variety of issues concerning MDE’s internal coherence, and had articulated a range of approaches to ameliorate conditions that can lead to the lack of value-driven leadership within the organization.
Approximately 90 issue statements were generated during the interviews with 14 members of MDE staff from different organizational units. The Core Planning Team performed a disciplined structural analysis of these statements. This analysis indicated that the majority of issues identified by the interviewees were classified in categories of (a) Leadership, (b) Communication, and (c) Vision. The design of the Alignment for Leadership Forum was based on the findings of this analysis.

A picture displaying some of the participants at the MDE Alignment for Leadership Forum is shown below. This picture was actually taken during a forced break in the group work because of a fire drill in the government building that the Forum was held.

In the first stage of the Forum, participants described and clarified 59 anticipated challenges. The participants identified the 12 challenges they considered to be the most important. Through a robust investigation of influences among the challenges, decided by more than 50 strong majority votes, three challenges were identified as the most influential drivers appearing at the deepest Level of a Tree-like Influence pattern. These challenges are:

  • Creating an atmosphere of trust;
  • Achieving a stream-lined process for approvals; and
  • With decreased staff, how do we reduce bureaucracy, provide administrative flexibility and empower individuals to do their jobs.

Three features of this analysis stood out. First of all, although the Forum’s focus was on resolving the issues of leadership, vision and communication, the clarifications and discussions about one of these three most influential challenges focused on the inability of the MDE stakeholders to engage in constructive criticism because of lack of trust. Secondly, two of the most influential drivers focused on the need to stream-line the approval process by providing administrative flexibility, empowering people to make some decisions, and reducing the bureaucracy.
In the second stage of the Forum the participants generated and clarified more than 60 proposed actions with emphasis on the three most influential challenges, displayed at the roots of the Tree of Influence.
The seventeen most important actions were selected for implementation by the community of stakeholders . It is interesting to note that the five higher priority actions received 37% of the total vote count, the seven top priority actions received 51% of the count, and the top seventeen most important actions, which have been included in the Consensus Action Plan for the MDE, received 82% of the total vote count. These results indicate the convergence of priority judgments among the participants of the Forum for the 17 top priority actions.

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