Action Inquiry: the Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership

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Action inquiry is a way of simultaneously conducting action and inquiry as a disciplined leadership practice that increases the wider effectiveness of our actions, as we speak with others in the midst of our organizational or family settings. Such self-aware interaction helps individuals teams, organizations, and still larger institutions become more capable of self-transformation and thus more creative, more aware, more just, and more sustainable.

In principle, anyone in any family, religious, or romantic situation can practice action inquiry. Action inquiry is not a set of prescriptions for behavior, which, when followed, invariably yield success. Action inquiry is a way of learning anew, in the aliveness of each moment, how best to act now. The source of both its difficulty and potential is that action inquiry requires making ourselves, not just others, vulnerable to inquiry and to transformation.

In fact, learning the process of action inquiry is a life-long process.

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This is why we formally call this theory, this practice, and this research method Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry. We learn action inquiry through a series of developmental transformations of our character, only a few of which most persons engage, in collaboration with significant others. Beginning in childhood, we can successively gain some mastery of the outside world the Opportunist action-logic ; then some mastery of our own behavior, usually in the early teens, taming it to meet the norms of our preferred groups the Diplomat action-logic ; next, in our late teens, especially if we go to college, we develop some mastery of the world of thought e.

Only a very small percentage of adults today engage three later developmental action-logics, but it is only at these three action-logics Redefining , Transforming , and Alchemical that leaders become capable of ongoing and organizationally-transforming action inquiry. Only at the Transforming action-logic do we become capable of reliably catalysing and supporting organizational development this theoretical claim has been strongly supported by empirical findings. Finally, in the movement toward the Alchemical action-logic, we increasingly often become aware that our attention is rarely differentiated from and inclusive of the other three territories of experience thought, behavior, and the outside world ; therefore we are rarely aware of how harmonious congruent or inharmonious incongruent our purposes, plans, actions, and outcomes currently are.

Triple-loop feedback awakens us to the simultaneous presence of all four territories of experience in the present, permitting us to exercise action inquiry more continually. Before we offer a slightly longer summary of each of these developmental action-logics see next post that serve as stations along a path of spiritual and practical development toward a capacity for increasingly continual action inquiry, let us say just a few words about the quality of research upon which this theory and practice are based.

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The tests of the GLP run the gamut from conventional reliability tests and internal validity tests, to use of the measure in laboratory and field experiments, and in predicting the outcomes of studies using non-obtrusive measures, interview analyses, behaviour-scoring schemes, and analyses of organizational case studies. In many cases, the variance in the GLP accounted for more than half of the variance in the dependent variables beyond the.

What remains distinctive about the contribution of CDAI is that its methods are applied to the researchers themselves as well as other participants, that its methods are applied in action settings, and that its methods generate not only single-loop feedback, but also double- and triple-loop feedback. Put differently, CDAI offers dynamic, transformational action research methods that theorize, document, and catalyze not only individual, adult development, but also organizational development, and scientific paradigm change.

Action refers to doing something e. According to Bill Torbert, Action Inquiry is about discovering the interaction between personal passion, compassion and dispassionate objectivity. These qualities can be developed simultaneously:.

Action Inquiry Plan

These territories are always present, but we are not always conscious of their influence on our behaviour. They are:. Context including Intent , purpose, and awareness. Frames including Strategies , plans, ploys, and tactics. Actions including Behaviours , skills and performance. Results including Outcomes , assessments, and consequences.

At any point in this Your attention might be on:. This way of always learning and adapting, based on the outcomes of your action and inquiry is defined as triple-loop learning:. Single-loop learning means you act, and able to reflect on whether that action achieves the result you wanted. Double-loop learning means you may act, and use what outcomes result to not only reflect on your actions, but also on the logic and plan that made you choose that action over other possibilities.

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Triple-loop learning may mean that, in the case of the carbon footprint example, you additionally reflect on how your beliefs, assumptions may be challenged or reinforced by what you observed were the consequences and outcomes of your actions in the world. You also want to be consciously aware of the context for those strategies and, and how that affects strategy, performance and outcomes in the real world.

But if you want to make significant, quantum improvement, work on paradigms… perception, assumption, theory, frame of reference or lens through which you view the world. These are four very different territories of attention, and each is a critical area of development for a leader. But increasing your awareness of them, ability to switch between them in-the-moment is something that requires practice.

You might already think of things that would increase your capacity for consciously shifting your attention, becoming more aware of your frames of reference and intentions, and of the consequences of your actions for others. These might include articulating your professional goals, seeking peer feedback on your communication style, or even meditating. Your own ideas and practices may be complemented by some simple practices recommended by Torbert and his colleagues.

Set your watch to chime every hour. When it beeps, notice what your attention has been on e. Your body, behaviour, past or future interactions with others. Increase consciousness of your energy, mood, and attention by noticing what happens as you transition from one activity to another e. Keep a regular journal that explores these different territories of your own experience, your attention, and what you learn. Practice being explicit in your conversations about your Framing your intent behind this conversation , Advocating what your theory of change is, or what strategy you recommending , Illustrating What you think the implications of this conversation are for action — verbal or physical and Inquiring asking questions of others and listening for the impact of your conversation.

In the case of this last example, two contrasting conversations may help illustrate what is advocated for.

Developing as a Leader, through Action Inquiry

Sticking with the carbon example, imagine the scenario of talking to your spouse about your new commitment, specifically about their behaviour. Compare these two conversations:. You can play out in your own mind how the rest of the conversation would unfold. My suggestion is that the latter dialogue would be one that proceeded in a more open, and transformative way that facilitated mutual understanding, and was more likely to result in collaborative action.


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