Wednesday, August 06, 2008

ILA webinar on Deeper Learning in Leadership - August 19

I'm excited to welcome potential readers to my blog who are considering, or have signed up for, the August 19 ILA webinar, "Deeper Learning in Leadership." I thought it might help to provide this introductory post to explain the purpose of this blog over the last 2+ years I've maintained it.

I originally began the blog in preparation for a two-month teaching, research, and writing opportunity I had in November and December of 2005. I served as a Visiting Scholar at the Miami University Dolibois European Center (MUDEC) in Luxembourg during which I 1) taught an undergraduate seminar on global leadership, 2) researched the European Union's emerging approach to higher education, and 3) completed a substantial portion of the draft text for what would become Deeper Learning in Leadership. I had never blogged before but friends and family encouraged me to start the "Pursuing Leadership" blog in order to keep them informed about my work, travels, and emerging thoughts about leadership. If you go all the way back to the beginning of the blog in October 2005, you will see that I charted the anticipation and anxiety associated with the MUDEC time and then I reflected throughout the experience on my travels and what the travels and other encounters had to do, if anything, with questions of leadership.

Once I returned from Luxembourg in January 2006, I maintained "Pursuing Leadership" as more or less a public journal of my reflections on leadership, higher education, and general life questions. You will see that I post periodically on reading that I have found influential, I reflect on philosophical questions, and I even get into a bit of political commentary as well. You won't agree with all I post and that is only fair and right. The bottom line is that I am a life-long student of leadership and, even after studying it through reading and experience, I have lots of questions left. Sometimes I think I should "get over" these questions but the deeper I explore leadership, the more questions I have. I can find no other personally acceptable way to resolve the internal dialogue than to be honest about it and to share my own journey as I seek to understand leadership. I hope that, as a reader of the blog, and potential participant in the August 19 webinar, you will engage with me as a fellow traveler in this journey. It might be more comfortable to passively receive the wisdom of someone who has "figured it all out" but that just isn't authentic for me. If you're looking for an authority who has all the answers for you, you should probably seek another expert. On the other hand, if you're up for some exploration, we could have some fun.

A little bit about why Deeper Learning in Leadership... The book is a combination of a tribute to one of the greatest minds of higher education and student affairs in the 20th century - Esther Lloyd Jones (pictured at age 90 in 1991) and a commitment that I had avoided for almost a decade - updating and publishing a sequel to Student Leadership Programs in Higher Education (1981). I was blessed in my early career by the confidence of two colleagues, Dr. William L. Thomas and Dr. Drury Bagwell, who in 1976 decided that the University of Maryland should do something explicit about student leadership. Being young and ambitious, I took the challenge with literally no background or academic preparation. In a panic, I turned to the American College Personnel Association where I found a number of colleagues equally interested in student leadership. This group formed the base of what would become the beginning of the formal study and development of student leadership through primarily cocurricular means. And, the work of the ACPA team, as well as the shared work with my Maryland colleagues resulted in the publication of Student Leadership Programs...

I won't go into all the details of the early days of exploring leadership learning for that is in Deeper Learning in Leadership and other articles that have emerged in the literature in the last several years. Deeper Learning in Leadership celebrates the fact that the focus on leadership has grown to amazing proportions. However, what I do put candidly on the table is a concern that I presently have - that the explosion of interest in leadership in higher education (and in many other areas as well) has become so popular and trendy that its credibility is at risk. It is at risk because I fear that our work is sometimes not as substantial and deep as it needs to be. I do not criticize anyone (including myself) in this statement; I propose it as a perspective of my reality that pushes me to ask more questions. Deeper Learning in Leadership raises questions about how we understand leadership, models that have emerged to help us, and new theories or frameworks that might stimulate more effective work in this very important endeavor.

The combination of tribute to Esther Lloyd-Jones and the purpose of pushing the boundaries in understanding leadership learning is no accident, although my understanding of their symmetry continues to emerge. Esther Lloyd-Jones was deeply influenced by John Dewey's ideas of democratic education and she brought this perspective into the formation of student personnel work in the early 20th century. Many student affairs staff are unaware of these origins and therefore miss the critical and essential link of cocurricular and experiential learning with the purposes of individual development, the importance of community, and cultivating democratic capacity. Scott London summarizes as well as any piece I've ever read the philosophy of John Dewey and its relevance to higher education today. Organic Democracy: The Political Philosophy of John Dewey is essential reading that will help you see the connection between Esther Lloyd-Jones' contribution to education and the opportunities we face in leadership learning.

The most recent twist in my journey to understand leadership is that immediately after publishing Deeper Learning in Leadership through Jossey-Bass I left the U.S.A. I joined the Qatar Foundation in November 2007 and my world has changed again as a result of so many amazing encounters in this new work. My more recent posts reflect my struggles as I've sought to understand higher education and leadership in an international context. The experience thus far has been profound and my journey is far from over. In fact, my guess is that I'm no more than 10% down the path that I will eventually travel while in the Arabian Gulf. I hope you will see that I am struggling again and I hope you will embrace that with me.

Please browse some of my previous posts on this blog and pick up a copy of Deeper Learning in Leadership. Consider what I've written in the book and on the blog as my "take" which is intentionally designed to provoke your reflection. Then come back with your perspectives and questions so that we can push deeper leadership to a new level of understanding and practice.


MJ said...

I'll be there!

Denny Roberts said...

Matt - I posted the Scott London link and then went back this morning to read more. You have to get into his stuff! He's a free-lance writer and photojournalist who does really cool stuff. He has worked with Kettering, Pew, and Harwood so much of his philosophical and education thought are in line with your studies. I know you would really enjoy reading some of his articles and reports.

The photojournalism is another matter... I almost took down my link because I was afraid that some of my Arab colleagues would be offended by the nature of the "Burning Man" photo series. This is very unedited photography - hauntingly beautiful but of a slice of the world that is very foreign to me.

Glad you're joining for the ILA webinar...

Best always,