The Role of Personally Transformative Learning in Leadership Development: A Case Study

By Ciporen, Rachel | Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies, May 2010 | Go to article overview

The Role of Personally Transformative Learning in Leadership Development: A Case Study


Ciporen, Rachel, Journal of Leadership & Organizational Studies


Abstract

This study examined if personally transformative learning (PTL) experienced during a month-long executive education program enhanced leaders' ability to generate positive individual and organizational outcomes, and identified key supports and barriers that affected the leaders' ability to transfer learning gained at the program to their organizations and personal lives. Pre- and postprogram interview transcripts and 360-degree feedback reports were the main data sources. Findings suggest that PTL has a lasting positive impact on leadership style. Actionable recommendations are provided for leveraging learning gained at executive programs and for minimizing barriers to transfer, along with criteria for identifying programs with transformative potential.

Keywords

transformative learning, transfer of learning, executive education, management education personally transformative learning, leadership development

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The 21st century poses many challenges to organizations and their leaders. Globalization, increased competition, international conflict, and continuous technological changes, combined with multiple reporting relationships as well as employee and customer diversity, make the requirements of leadership increasingly complex. Senge (1994, p. 340) holds that leaders are "responsible for building organizations where people continually expand their capacities to understand complexity, clarify vision, and improve shared mental models--that is, they are responsible for learning." Having expertise and experience is not enough; to develop the aforementioned capacities in their organizations, executives must first be able to exercise the capacities themselves (Henderson, 2002; Torbert, 2004). Given the backdrop of these growing pressures on organizations and the complex requirements of leadership, increased attention to continuous learning and a deeper understanding of effective approaches to transfer of learning have become even more critical. The competencies that define transformative learning--becoming more open, reflective, inclusive, discriminating, and emotionally capable of change (Mezirow, 1990, 2000)--have the potential to help leaders address these challenges.

This study examined how senior executives who experienced deep change as a result of learning gained at a month-long leadership development program (hereafter referred to as the Executive Program (1)) sustained and transferred their learning to generate positive individual, interpersonal, and organizational outcomes when they returned to their organizations and personal lives. In this study, deep change is operationalized as an outcome of personally transformative learning, defined as any type of learning that has a lasting impact on how individuals interact with others, frame problems, and view themselves. This definition is based on Mezirow's (1990, 2000) theory of transformative learning but limits the scope of the transformation to its psychological aspect. Mezirow (2000) states,

   Transformative learning refers to the process by which
   we transform taken-for-granted frames of reference ...
   to make them more inclusive, discriminating, open,
   emotionally capable of change, and reflective so that
   they may generate beliefs and opinions that will prove
   more true or justified to guide action. (pp. 7-8)

The study provides strong evidence that the competencies associated with transformative learning--becoming more open, reflective, inclusive, discriminating, and emotionally capable of change (Mezirow, 1990, 2000)--have the potential to help executives become better leaders. It also makes recommendations for evaluating which leadership training programs have the potential to promote personally transformative learning, for shoring up supports and removing barriers to learning transfer, and leveraging positive changes across the organization.

Problem Statement and Purpose

The Importance of Learning Transfer

Billions of dollars are spent on executive education and development programs each year (American Society of Training & Development, 2005; Fulmer & Vicere, 1996; Reingold, 1997). …

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