29- The Postmodern Leader: Style One. I. Engaging Experience and Wisdom in a Postmodern Age

March 29, 2010

[© Copyright. Feel free to link to this blog. Please ask author for permission before copying.]

I. Engaging Experience and Wisdom in a Postmodern Age

In my previous blogs I have identified both premodern and modern version of three styles of leadership. In this blog and the following five blogs I will be identifying and describing the characteristics of these three styles as they are engaged in the contemporary postmodern context –one filled with the challenges of complexity, unpredictability and turbulence. In this blog I focus again on the first style. This is a style in premodern societies that primarily concerns wisdom—using one’s wisdom to directly guide the organization. In modern societies, Style One leaders (as managers) concentrate on delegation, supervision, teaching and mentoring—the sharing of knowledge and experience with other members of the organization.

What occurs, when the Style One Leader confronts the complexity, unpredictability and turbulence of a postmodern world? I propose that this leader becomes a learner. Rather than being the primary source of wisdom, knowledge or experience, the leader becomes a lifelong learner who exemplifies the willingness and ability to absorb new information and consider alternative frameworks and perspectives when confronting these unique postmodern challenges. I further propose that the new learning can take one of four forms and that an effective leader will at various times in their career embrace each of these forms of adult learning.

The Emerging Models of Lifelong Learning

As I have mentioned in previous blogs regarding Style One leadership, it was assumed that Style One leaders have already obtained a high quality education before taking on leadership responsibilities. If they have not received an education of quality then they have acquired a sound education in the “world of hard knocks”—that is they have acquired their education through extensive experience in the field rather than by attending a formal educational institution. This assumption was challenged during the second half of the 20th Century, when increasing attention was given to management education programs for men and women who were already in positions of leadership. Yet, the model of education for these leaders was still (in most cases) built on an accompanying set of assumptions that were established in traditional educational institutions and in work with young, inexperienced learners. A revolution needed to occur with regard to these underlying assumptions and the ongoing educational and training practices that emerged from these assumptions. This revolution goes by many names. At a fundamental level, it can be called “adult education.” Yet, there is much more to this story then just the addition of the word “adult” to the word “education.” This revolution involved the move from a “pedagogical” model of education to what is often called “andragogy.”  I will briefly describe this new model—then offer two additional models that may be even more appropriate to a leader who is not only an adult, but is also facing the multiple challenges of our postmodern world of complexity, unpredictability and turbulence.

Four Models of Leadership Learning

Model One: Pedagogy Model Two: Andragogy Model Three: Transformation Model Four: Appreciation
Orientation/ Fundamental



Theory Rich/

Experience Poor


Theory Poor/

Experience Rich


Shift in Perspective or Values


Theory Rich/

Experience Rich

Nature of Learning [Kegan] 1st Order

[Concrete Operations]

2nd Order

[Formal Operations]

3rd Order

[Postformal Operations]

4th Order [Sense of Self and Others Within Context]
Desired Learning Outcomes New Knowledge/


Expanded Knowledge/


Changing Framework Articulation/


New Connections

Primary Goal Degree/


In Management/ Leadership

Graduation from Management/

Leadership Training Program

New Outlook on Leadership Masterful


Model Two: Andragogy

This new model (andragogy) was first championed by such stalwarts of continuing and adult education as Malcolm Knowles and Patricia Cross.  It stressed the unique and challenging needs of the mature learner for a different kind of educational experience that was more engaging, more flexible and, in particular, more appreciative of the existing knowledge base and experience of the mature learning. As a colleague, Elinor Greenberg, noted many years ago, the adult learner is likely to be “experience rich, but theory poor,” whereas the younger learner is likely (at least when they graduate) to be “theory rich, but experience poor.” The andragogic model of education has been and often still is very appropriate in the education and training of contemporary leaders. The andragogic model fails, however, just as the pedagogical model does, in meeting the needs of many leaders, who enter their positions of leadership with not only rich experiences, but also rich (if often implicitly held) theories about the world and their role in it. A third and fourth model of adult education are needed.

Model Three: Transformation

The third model is based on the assumption that leaders of contemporary organizations go through major transformations in their life. As Frederick Hudson (The Adult Years) has so effectively illustrated, adult development is not a linear or even curvilinear pathway from less complex to more complex development; rather, it is a series of life cycles, with mature men and women repeatedly moving through profound transformations. These transformations can be precipitated or at least energized in the Style One leader by not only the opportunities that emerge in the leader’s organization (such as a promotion, rapid organizational growth, or success of a major project) but also the threats and vicissitudes facing the organization and this person’s career (loss of job, failure of a major project, personal or organizational bankruptcy). Transformations can also be engaged by Style One leaders in a more intentional manner, through the introduction of powerful, transformative learning experiences. This is the third model for the Style One leader-as-learner.

Model Four: Appreciation

The fourth model begins with the assumption that the successful Style One leader of a contemporary organization is a person with as much experience, wisdom and insight as anyone else inside or outside the organization. The successful leader may actually be an expert—as well as a learner—in the field on which she wishes to focus.  While the first three models of adult education are all based on a set of deficit assumptions, Model Four is profoundly appreciative in nature.

Model One (Pedagogy) assumes that the leader-as-learner needs to acquire certain knowledge or master certain skills in order to become a success. In essence, the Model One leader-as-learner is an empty (or near empty) mug into which knowledge or skills is poured by an instructor, trainer, mentor or coach with superior knowledge, skills or experience.  The second model (Andragogy) is also deficit-based. While the Style One leader enters a developmental program with substantial experience (one or more mugs that are already full), there is still the need for additional education, training, mentoring or coaches. There is an awaiting mug that is not yet full, but needs to be full (or at least partially filled) so that this Style One leader-as-learner can prepare for a new role or for greater success in her leadership role.

Even Model Three (Transformation) is essentially based on a deficit perspective. Someone (the educator, trainer, mentor, coach, retreat facilitator, etc.) creates conditions for the transformation to occur. Without this assistance, the transformation is less likely to occur. Furthermore, it is assumed that the transformation is a good thing: it will enable the Style One leader-as-learner to be wiser, more compassionate, more thoughtful, more socially intelligent, etc. We are “born again” as transformed Style One leaders so that our new self can be even better than the old self. The leader now wants a new mug or set of mugs –and usually is shown where the new mug(s) can be acquired (or purchased).

Model Four (Appreciation) focuses on appreciating and giving voice to the wisdom (insights, knowledge, skills) that the Style One leader already possesses—not on new learning or growth. Furthermore, this wisdom is uncovered and appreciated within a specific context that is co-created by the leader and her colleague (mentor, coach, retreat facilitator). The leader’s current mugs are overflowing. The leader has only to become more fully aware of these “bountiful” resources and the best way in which to engage these resources on behalf of her organization.


I propose that as our society becomes more complex, unpredictably and turbulent (the postmodern condition) and as our population becomes older on average (the “graying” of society), it is likely that the third and fourth models of leadership education will become more important, more often engaged and in need of further refinements.