Leadership Library Review — Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World

February 2012

Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World

by Jennifer Garvey Berger (Stanford University Press, 2012)

What are the big take-aways?

Berger argues persuasively – and with practical examples for implementing her philosophy – that organizations are more effective when they take an adult development perspective toward cultivating leadership.  Using Robert Kegan’s “forms of mind” theory of adult development, Berger discusses the benefits to organizations of intentionally operationalizing an understanding of how adults learn and grow.  At the end of Changing on the Job, she concludes (p. 174):

Creating contexts and spaces for people to reach their full potential may sound like specialized work for those of us who happened to be born with an orientation in this direction.  Really it’s the work we’re all called to…Supporting someone to be at their biggest – whether as a leader, as a coach, as a teacher, or as a colleague – brings us into the space where we are at our biggest, too.  Our people and our planet require that bigness right now; it is no longer an option for us to be small.

Why did I like it?

As a leader and a coach with an adult education background, myself, I have a bias for developmental perspectives like Berger’s.  I believe that, to be an agile and effective leader, one must be both a curious learner and also committed to supporting the growth of others.  I agree with Berger that the most positive and sustainable way to deal with the complexities of our global community’s social, economic and political challenges is to expand our own abilities to manage complexity.  I liked this resource because Berger offers an accessible adult development framework, with clear action steps, which leaders and organizations can use to accomplish this kind of growth.

In what situations would this be useful?

If you are a leader who is highly motivated to understand your own growth process, and/or to coach others by understanding theirs, reading Changing on the Job is likely to satisfy and inspire you.  It is dense reading but worth it, helped by the author’s sense of humor and use of down-to-earth examples.

Berger first walks the reader through Kegan’s stages of adult development or “forms of mind” (i.e. self-sovereign, socialized, self-authored, and self-transforming), and how to recognize them.  She then offers strategies for identifying growth edges and coaching to them, and for designing transformative professional development and learning opportunities.  Berger wraps up with pragmatic discussions of the implications of transformation on leadership, and on the individual pursuit of wisdom and fulfillment.

What other resources might “pair” well with it?

Because Berger studied with Robert Kegan, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in You and Your Organization by Kegan and Lahey (reviewed earlier in the Leadership Library) is a natural choice.  For another cut at the adult developmental perspective on leadership, in similar terms but with a different framework, I recommend Leadership Aglity: Five Levels of Mastery for Anticipating and Initiating Change by Joiner and Josephs (also previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).

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1 Response to Leadership Library Review — Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World

  1. Pingback: Leadership Library Review: “Understanding the Leader’s ‘Identity Mindtrap’: Personal Growth for the C-Suite” | Susan Palmer Consulting, LLC

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