Home Concepts The Wise Leader in a Postmodern Organizational Context

The Wise Leader in a Postmodern Organizational Context

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This new model was first championed by such stalwarts of continuing and adult education as Malcolm Knowles and Patricia Cross.  It stressed the unique and challenging needs of the mature learner for a different kind of educational experience that was more engaging, more flexible and, in particular, more appreciative of the existing knowledge base and experience of the mature learning. As a colleague, Elinor Greenberg, noted many years ago, the adult learner is likely to be “experience rich, but theory poor,” whereas the younger learner is likely (at least when they graduate) to be “theory rich, but experience poor.” The andragogic model of education has been and often still is very appropriate in the education and training of contemporary leaders. The andragogic model fails, however, just as the pedagogical model does, in meeting the needs of many leaders, who enter their positions of leadership with not only rich experiences, but also rich (if often implicitly held) theories about the world and their role in it. A third and fourth model of adult education are needed.


The transformational model is based on the assumption that leaders of contemporary organizations go through major transformations in their life. As Frederick Hudson (The Adult Years) has so effectively illustrated, adult development is not a linear or even curvilinear pathway from relatively simple to more complex development; rather, it is a series of life cycles, with mature men and women repeatedly moving through profound transformations. These transformations can be precipitated or at least energized in the postmodern leader by not only the opportunities that emerge in the leader’s organization (such as a promotion, rapid organizational growth, or success of a major project) but also the threats and vicissitudes facing the organization and this person’s career (loss of job, failure of a major project, personal or organizational bankruptcy). Transformations can also be engaged by organizational leaders in a more intentional manner, through the introduction of powerful, transformative learning experiences.


The fourth model begins with the assumption that the successful leader of a contemporary organization is a person with as much experience, wisdom and insight as anyone else inside or outside the organization. The successful leader may actually be an expert—as well as a learner—in the field on which she wishes to focus.  While the first three models of adult education are all based on a set of deficit assumptions, Model Four is profoundly appreciative in nature.

Model One (Pedagogy) assumes that the leader-as-learner needs to acquire certain knowledge or master certain skills in order to become a success. In essence, the Model One leader-as-learner is an empty (or near empty) mug into which knowledge or skills is poured by an instructor, trainer, mentor or coach with superior knowledge, skills or experience.  The second model (Andragogy) is also deficit-based. While a leader enters a developmental program with substantial experience (one or more mugs that are already full), there is still the need for additional education, training, mentoring or coaches. There is an awaiting mug that is not yet full, but needs to be full (or at least partially filled) so that this leader-as-learner can prepare for a new role or for greater success in her leadership role.

Even Model Three (Transformation) is essentially based on a deficit perspective. Someone (the educator, trainer, mentor, coach, retreat facilitator, etc.) creates conditions for the transformation to occur. Without this assistance, the transformation is less likely to occur. Furthermore, it is assumed that the transformation is a good thing: it will enable the leader-as-learner to be wiser, more compassionate, more thoughtful, more socially intelligent, etc. We are “born again” as transformed leaders so that our new self can be even better than the old self. The leader now wants a new mug or set of mugs –and usually is shown where the new mug(s) can be acquired (or purchased).

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