Wednesday, February 03, 2010

A Dispositional Approach Towards Inclusive Adaptive Leadership - Suresh Paul and Mark Tozer

As a practitioner, can you lead inclusively? Do you lead inclusively? These are different questions, and your answer may well be "yes" to the first and "no" to the second. The first question asks about ability: if you are given a mixed ability group to lead, could you lead them inclusively? The second tacitly asks much more, it goes beyond ability and asks about inclination: Are you disposed to leading inclusively? Do you like to lead inclusively? Do you lead inclusively regularly? 

Leading inclusively is like higher order thinking in at least this respect: in both cases, ability alone is not enough to ensure ongoing performance. Paul (2010) suggests that the creation of inclusive meaningful opportunities in the outdoors requires the taming of a wicked problem that is embedded in a social mess. Furthermore, Paul (2010) proposes two models that provide a nexus for developing leadership dispositions through inspirational learning and the enhancement of a leader’s adaptive capacity. 

Developing the capacity for individuals to learn more effectively from their experiences is an important part of building the expertise, knowledge and skills for inclusive leadership. A likely outcome is the formation of dispositions of adaptive capacity or expertise.

Figure 1: The Fear Fear and Fear Model (Paul 2010) sets out the barriers that exist for practitioners who wish to learn how to be inclusive adaptive leaders. In order for adaptive capacity to flourish from the outset, individuals need to consider the importance of: (1) practicing different ways of learning, (2) ensuring variation in that practice (3) become proficient at making balanced judgements about how or if an experience might change their current perspective by reflecting on their learning experiences and (4) become adept at seeking out and taking different perspectives by applying principles of ‘good thinking’ (Figure 2).

Figure 1: The Fear Fear and Fear Model (Paul 2010) 

Good thinking (Perkins et al., 1993a) is characterised by seven dispositions 1) To be broad and adventurous 2) Toward sustained intellectual curiosity 3) To clarify and seek understanding 4) To plan and be strategic 5) To be intellectually careful 6) To seek and evaluate reasons 7) To be meta-cognitive. Each disposition (Figure 3) is a complex relationship between three elements: inclination (a person’s felt tendency towards a particular behaviour), sensitivity (a person’s alertness towards a particular occasion), and capability (the ability of a person to follow through with a behaviour). 

Figure 2: A Disposition And Its Elements (Tozer et al., 2007)

A ‘good leader’ may be disposed towards all of the thinking behaviours, and appropriately exhibit one or more of them depending on the situation. Perkins et al (1993a) contend that it raises provocative questions about existing models of thinking, casts new light on controversial issues in the field, connects in interesting ways to findings in other promising areas of cognitive research, and has important implications for the education of good thinking. Inclusive leadership is more than just a matter of skill. It involves attending to one's attitudes, values and of habits of mind. Adaptive leaders need to be good thinkers and develop appropriate dispositions in accordance with that (Tozer et al., 2007).

Typically, a leadership practitioner is an experienced and qualified individual who may act as a positive role model to those they lead. Loynes (2004) considers that the functions of leadership whilst in the outdoors are concerned with working with participants, ensuring maximised opportunities for all involved, resolving group issues and task problems along with achieving the desired goals. Loynes also states that leadership must focus upon managing a number of diverse and changing factors that arise within wilderness settings, something he regards as a complex and dynamic process. Figure 3: The Inclusive Adventure Model (Paul, 2010) provides a focal point for balancing these factors for practitioners as they think about being inclusive and adaptive as leaders. 

Figure 3: The Inclusive Adventure Model (Paul, 2010) 

The fear of change (Figure 1) can be eased when people anticipate and plan how to manage it. One effective plan for overcoming the theory-or-practice learning dilemma is to aim to combine theory and practice into one rhythm of effort. In practical terms, that means taking either a think-do-think approach to developing inclusive and adaptive dispositions as leaders, or a do-think-do approach. Both of these approaches involve cycles of reflection and practice. All these elements will be recognisable in any leadership approach that reflects understanding through flexible performances and the cognitive agility to adapt to their participants’ needs.

Applying ideas about adaptive capacity, learning and inclusion to a wide variety of outdoor skills, abilities and conditions that can occur within leadership practices is likely to develop a greater flexibility in dealing with new learning situations. Initially, the practice of leading in an adaptable way will require careful analysis and review of learning episodes and experiences. Eventually, the process will become automated. In the end, a good learner, and hence a good leader, will be able to learn, act and think more skilfully with only sporadic self-checking in novel and dynamically variable circumstances (Schwartz et al., 2005). 

Inclusive adaptive leadership will require innovative thinking; it entails practitioners taking positive and inspiring learning steps; and it necessitates them to be able to work openly with others. What is needed of a good leader is the ability to recognise and apply good adaptive practices in potentially novel and unstructured situations. To be accustomed to operating independently, make decisions in chaotic conditions and be cognitively agile (Tozer et al., 2007). 

1 comment:

Martin Crabbe said...

Hi Mark - I read this at the RGS the other day and really liked it. I've referenced it for my EdD - see