Transformational Teaching and Leadership

People think teaching and leadership are two very different activities. As we move from novice to expert to master, in each area, the two become very similar. The leap from expert to master is a transformation that makes a person transformational.

Doug Anderson is an example. After teaching business strategy at Harvard, Doug helped build a major business that provided educational programs in many of the world’s largest companies. He later became dean of the Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University. In that position, he has had great impact. In reflecting on his personal journey, Doug shares a story of great trauma, a cauldron story. It appears in my book Building the Bridge as You Walk It (p. 225):

I have often heard it said that “you never really learn a thing until you teach it to someone else.” And it is true – there is a powerful connection between teaching and learning. [To me] teaching seemed like a great way to continue learning. But it is not the only way, and maybe not the most powerful way – there is also the learning that comes from applying or experiencing an idea.

I was a member of a consulting team that was using the concepts of Deep Change to help a major utility transform itself from an engineering-driven company to one that was much more focused on market and competitive realities. From the outset, I expected this to be a fascinating intellectual journey. It turned out to be far more than that. It became personal.

During much of the decade of the 1990s my first marriage was slowly dying. I knew my wife wasn’t happy, but I always believed we would get through it. Sometimes she’d try to talk about divorce, but I wouldn’t consider it. When you are rafting down the Colorado River and encounter white water, I’d say, that’s not the time to jump out, or to push your partner out. I was sure there would be calm water ahead.

She didn’t believe that. In may 1998 the perfect storm hit. I had planned a three-day business trip to Houston to coincide with the anniversary of [my brother’s] death. At noon on the day I was to leave, there came a knock on the door. I answered to find an officer of the court, with divorce papers in hand. “Your court appearance is scheduled for the day after tomorrow,” he said.

I was stunned. But I couldn’t see an option for canceling my client engagement. Obviously, I would not be able to represent myself in court. I called an attorney friend and spent the afternoon with him, [arriving] at the client’s conference center well after midnight. The next morning at eight o’clock I opened a three-day seminar. At the end of the three days, I visited my sister-in-law [who had lost her husband]. Instead of comforting her, I collapsed.

The divorce took two years to become final. I was powerless to prevent it. I spun through the grief cycle, I found myself returning again and again to the concepts in Deep Change. I had never experienced this kind of sorrow before. Deep Change became a mirror for me. I was not always comfortable with what I saw. I began to recognize integrity gaps that I had not previously acknowledged.

My teaching became much more personal. In each session, as I challenged participants to confront their integrity gaps, I challenged myself. And, as I acted on these commitments, a new self emerged, a learner who was now a much better guide to others on journeys of discovery and transformation.

In the hero’s journey, the hero sets out on a quest and, before returning to his home community as an “empowered and empowering” leader, must slay the beast. The beast he slays is his old self. That’s what deep change is all about: the renewal and the replenishment of self and enlargement of others.


  • What does trauma require us to do?
  • Why do we have integrity gaps that we do not recognize?
  • Why do we have to slay the old self?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s