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Of Parts and Wholes-Perspectives on Transformational Leadership

Of Parts and Wholes-Perspectives on Transformational Leadership

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Published by Michael Chew
This paper explores the relationship between conceptions of the part and whole in the ideas of transformational leadership outlined in the articles of Senge et al. (2003), Mindell (1992) and Uhl-Bien, Marion and McKelvey (2007).
This paper explores the relationship between conceptions of the part and whole in the ideas of transformational leadership outlined in the articles of Senge et al. (2003), Mindell (1992) and Uhl-Bien, Marion and McKelvey (2007).

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Published by: Michael Chew on Jul 24, 2011
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Of Parts and Wholes:three perspectives on transformational leadership
Michael Chew 
This paper explores the relationship between conceptions of the part and whole in the ideasof transformational leadership outlined in the articles of Senge et al. (2003), Mindell (1992)and Uhl-Bien, Marion and McKelvey (2007).
Transformational leadership is becoming crucial to the context of thecontemporary world, with the selected articles positing contrasting reasons.On one hand, economic globalisation accelerates multinational competitionand the development of knowledge-based organisations, requiring new formsof leadership to keep up with the pace and uncertainty (Uhl-Bien, Marion andMcKelvey 2007). On the other hand, the inability of current social, economic,and political structures to deal with persistent global environmental and socialissues invites the search for new models of leadership
(Senge et al. 2003).The concept of transformational leadership itself is multifaceted,encompassing a broad range of definitions.
For the purposes of exploringthe relationship between the part and the whole we will focus on the
aspect of transformational leadership. O’Sullivan and Taylor (2004) describes this leadership ‘as
a shared and functionally based  partnership activity that benefits the entire human system’ 
. This view seesleadership functions as not restricted to individual leaders themselves, butinstead emerging through their relationships with others and their operatingenvironments. This concept implies a creative tension arising from therelationship between the part and the whole, or the individual and group. Wewill consider this relationship and how it is expressed through the selectedarticles.Senge et al. (2003) frames transformational leadership as a mechanism for paradigmatic change from our contemporary unbalanced society to one that isin harmony with its environment and its peoples. A pre-condition of this
For instance (Brown and Treviño 2006) and (Fry 2003) outline some general definations.
change is the ability for individuals and organisations to see themselves andtheir context in a fundamentally differently way – as complex, living wholes,rather than just the sum total of isolated parts. By expanding our ‘part’,namely our individual and organisational self-awareness, to include thenatural environment and social systems which make up our ‘whole’,contemporary business-as-usual logic such as compulsive growth of a partare revealed as pathologies.The essence of transformational leadership is this expanding of awareness from the part to the whole. This process condenses into action vianecessary changes to our current approaches to learning. In environments of profound tension and change this greater awareness of the whole allows ussee beyond our immediate event-horizon and overcome our associated shortterm and reactionary mental models to perceive possibilities for transformational change.The article focuses on this mechanism as fundamentally an act of seeing, locating its description and analysis for these processes at a generallevel with few specific details.Mindell (1992) goes beyond this notion of ‘seeing’ to encompass ‘doing’ –providing a more detailed coverage of transformational leadership processesin a specific context - group dynamics in community groups andorganisations. Here the relationship between parts and wholes constellatesaround the role of the facilitator – who takes the dual role of standing outsideand holding the delicate awareness of the whole group, whilst continuallymaking informed interventions in the group as a group member herself.The whole group here is conceptualised as a ‘field’ - a metaphor for groups that are in the midst of ‘turbulence’ – facing crisis or difficult change.Growth in this unstable context happens through iterative stages of oscillationbetween equilibrium and chaos in the group, these phase transitions beingprompted by the group allowing all of its constituent parts to fully express their feelings, views, and ideas. The expression of – and listening to - all parts iscrucial to ‘balance’ the field – allowing the whole to grow collectively. Thereare resonances with Senge et al. (2003) here – where with self- knowledge of 
the whole, the part can be transformed and emerge through crisis to grow asits own microcosm of the whole.Transformational leadership in this context is supporting the inherenttendencies in the field for this continual self-balancing. Mindell (1992) usesthe concept of ‘awareness’ to describe the varied ways by which the facilitator can be highly present to the state of the group, whilst also reflecting thisknowledge back to the group. The facilitator may also need to actively stepout of her neutral role and use various techniques to ensure that the hidden,disavowalled parts of the field express themselves fully and are collectivelyrecognised by the whole field.
 Senge et al. (2003) has an analogous concept of ‘presence’ thatdescribes this necessary recognition and engagement of the part with thewhole. By experiencing presence, the tension between action and awarenessbecomes the paradox of the inspired creator – who experiences a
 paradoxical state of great confidence and profound humility… knowing that their choices and actions really matter and feeling guided by forces beyond their making’ 
(Senge et al. 2003, p. 7). In a similar manner the groupfacilitator operates within the paradox of intervention and stillness.
Future states of the whole are related to present actions of the part indifferent yet related ways by the two articles. For Mindell (1992), it is throughawareness of the whole that the facilitator can guess at the future state of thegroup, appearing often as the opposite of the current state, as fields have thetendency to self-balance. In Senge et al. (2003), it is the task of transformational leader to articulate a vision of the future where parts areaware of their interconnections and connections to the whole. However, incontrast to Mindell’s view in which foreseeing the future enables one to bebetter prepared for it, Senge’s visioning is explicitly aimed at having atransformational effect on others so that they realise that they can makechoices that shape and create the future that they want.
Uhl-Bien, Marionand McKelvey (2007) develops the most comprehensive leadership theory of the three articles, exploring a concept of ‘complexity’ leadership based on how
There are various mechanisms for this – including switching roles and modeling individual’sbehaviour. Mindell (1992, p. 37-43).
The key to making potentially fearful futures generative is to see that we have choices, and that our choices matter’ 
(Senge et al. 2003, p. 9).

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