Unleashing the Power of Self-Directed Learning

By: Richard E. Boyatzis, Ph.D.

Case Western Reserve University

Download PDF

Original Reference - Reprinted With Permission
Boyatzis, R.E. (2002). Unleashing the power of self-directed learning. In R. Sims (ed.), Changing the Way We Manage Change: The Consultants Speak. NY: Quorum Books.

 

The new economy is not about technology, it is about a change in the basic assumptions about the nature of work. Contributing to this are several demographic factors. Worldwide, the workforce is aging. By 2050, the average age of the US population will increase to 40 (from 36 in 1995). In the US in 1999, 19% of the workforce was 70 or older. By that same year, the number of retirees in Europe will be greater than the number of people in the workforce (The Economist, 2000). The workforce and population is becoming increasingly ethnically and racially diverse. By 2050, 24% of the workforce (about 97 million people) in the US will be Hispanic. Women are filling more positions of power in organizations each year. Slowing population growth and resettlement patterns are changing the human resource picture in entire countries. For example, by 2050, without extraordinary immigrations, the population of Spain and Italy will shrink by 25%.

Technology has changed the design of work and the rhythm of our lives. Even though we may feel guilty for not checking our email at least once a day, we still fail to comprehend the magnitude of this change. For example, the current high school graduating class in the US will be the first generation to never have touched a typewriter. Their basic assumptions about how to work, live and learn is different than ours as a result of technology. We engage in anywhere, anytime shopping, conversations, information acquisition, medical advice, and learning.

At the same time, right-sizing, acquisitions, dot com exuberance, and changing values have led to a dramatically different relationship between each person and the organizations within which they work. People are more individualistic in the way they view their careers and commitment to organizations. Organizations have done little to encourage any other view by viewing people as a tradable and expendable human resource. People today want increasing work/life balance and an holistic approach to life. Of those with skills and the better educated, many believe that there are many opportunities available for work, especially for the most talented.

It is no wonder that organizations face a war for talent, as decried by studies of McKinsey in 1998 and 2000 as reported in Fast Company (January, 2001). Finding the right people and keeping them has become a major problem for organizations. This occurs even when they are simultaneously laying others off and restructuring their workforce. There is almost full employment in the industrial and knowledge industry sections of many countries. The CEO of Hewlett Packard, Carly Fiorina has developed a mantra that captures her approach to this dilemma, "Capture their hearts, their minds will follow."

The current relationship or psychological contract between a person and an organization seems best characterized by the concept of Free Agency. Like free agents in sports, people feel that they can and should look for the best offer, one that suits their individual needs and career aspirations each year, or sooner if opportunities come along.

The emerging forms of organizations will depend on free agency more and more. For the longest period of human history, the primary form of social organization was a hunting and gathering society. They were mobile groups of 50 to 100 people who adapted continuously to the climate, food sources, external threats. They lasted at least 50,000 years, and were organic. When agricultural forms came into being about four or five thousand years ago and then spread, hunting and gathering societies began to fade. This was the predominant form of social organization beyond the family for about 3,000 years.

Then we developed bureaucratic forms of organization- military, feudal system, and churches (which lasted for about 1,000 or so years). They featured a command and control system. Science paved the way for the industrial revolution that has lasted about 200 years. Money was the key resource, but we were separated from our completed products and customers. Functional and even matrix forms were popular.

But this form of organization began to fade with the emergence of fluid organizations. Fed by the information revolution and knowledge economy, especially evident in professional services and technology but spreading to many types of organization, we have seen the growth of fluid organizations in the last 10 years or so. They are adaptive systems using self-organizing principles described by complexity theory. Fluid organizations have fuzzy boundaries, alliances and communities of practice. Information and people are the key resource. Velocity is vital as we pursue e-business, e-learning, and e-relationships. These emerging forms are organic and tribal.

This reminds us and may in fact lead us back to hunting and gathering societies. In fluid or hunting and gathering societies, any person can leave with an hour. Kevin Kelly said, in The New Economy, that adaptability will replace productivity as the key measure of organizational performance in the coming years, adapting to clients, markets, technology, the workforce, and so forth. In fluid organizations, free agency is the primary form of psychological contract.

"How do the 'best companies to work for' maintain an edge in this environment? One word: culture!" (Fortune , January 8, 2001, pg.149). The desired culture is one that is exciting and viewed as a great place to grow and develop. This has been shown in surveys of the managerial and professional workforce in the US since the middle 1980's.

Can a Person Grow and Develop Their Talent?
Decades of research on the effects of psychotherapy (Hubble et. al., 1999), self-help programs (Kanfer and Goldstein, 1991), cognitive behavior therapy (Barlow, 1988), training programs (Morrow, Jarrett, and Rupinski, 1997), and education (Pascarella and Terenzini, 1991; Winter, McClelland, and Stewart, 1981) have shown that people can change their behavior, moods, and self-image. But most of the studies focused on a single characteristic, like maintenance of sobriety, reduction in a specific anxiety, or a set of characteristics often determined by the assessment instrument, such as the scales of the MMPI. For example, the impact of Achievement Motivation Training was a dramatic increase in small business success, with people creating more new jobs, starting more new businesses, and paying more taxes than comparison groups (McClelland and Winter, 1969; Miron and McClelland, 1979). The impact of Power Motivation Training was improved maintenance of sobriety (Cutter, Boyatzis, and Clancy, 1977).

A series of longitudinal studies underway at the Weatherhead School of Management of Case Western Reserve University have shown that people can change on the complex set of competencies that distinguish outstanding performers in management and professions. In contrast to the honeymoon effect of most training, education and development programs, the behavioral improvements did not fade away after three weeks or three months. They lasted for years. A visual comparison of different samples is shown in Figure 1.


Figure 1. Percentage Improvement of Emotional Intelligence

graph

Competencies of Different Groups of MBA Graduates
Up to two years after going through the change process--compared to when they first entered the course-- they showed 47% improvement on self-awareness competencies like self-confidence and on self-management competencies such as the drive to achieve and adaptability. When it came to social awareness and relationship management skills, improvements were even greater: 75% on competencies such as empathy and team leadership.

These gains are also in stark contrast to those from standard MBA programs, where there is no attempt to enhance emotional intelligence abilities. The best data here comes from a research project by a research committee of the American Assembly of Collegiate Schools of Business. They found that graduating students from two highly ranked business schools, compared to their levels when they began their MBA training, showed only improvements of 2% in the skills of emotional intelligence. In fact, when students from four other high-ranking MBA programs were assessed on a more thorough range of tests, they showed a gain of 4% in self-awareness and self-management abilities, but a decrease of 3% in social awareness and relationship management. The gains were found again, in studies that assessed part-time MBA students, who typically take three to five years to graduate. These groups showed 28% improvement in self-awareness and self-management competencies and 56% improvement in social awareness and social skills competencies by the end of their MBA program.

That's not all. Jane Wheeler tracked down groups of these part-timers two years after they had graduated. Even all that time later, they still showed improvements in the same range: 36% on the self-awareness and self-management competencies, and 45% on the social awareness and relationship management competencies. These are remarkable results, the first to demonstrate gains sustained over so many years in the emotional intelligence building blocks of resonant leadership.

The "honeymoon effect" of typical training might start at 30-40% improvement immediately following the training, but within 1-3 months it would drop to about 10% and stay there.

To be more specific, MBA students, averaging 27 years old at entry into the program, showed dramatic changes on videotaped and audiotaped behavioral samples and questionnaire measures of these competencies, as summarized in Figures 2 and 3, as a result of the competency-based, outcome oriented MBA program implemented in 1990 (Boyatzis, Baker, Leonard, Rhee, and Thompson, 1995; Boyatzis, Leonard, Rhee, and Wheeler, 1996; Boyatzis, Wheeler, and Wright, in press).

Figure 2. Value-Added to Full-Time Students from the Old Vs. the New MBA Programs

Evidence of Value Old Program Added

New Program

 

Self Management

Social Awareness & Mgt.

Analytic Reasoning

Self Management

Social Awareness & Mgt.

Analytic Reasoning

STRONG EVIDENCE

 

Self-confidence

 

Use of Concepts

Systems Thinking

Quantitative Analysis

Use of Tech.

Written Comm.

 

Efficiency Orientation

Planning

Initiative

Flexibility

Self Confidence

Social Obj.

Networking

Oral Comm.

Empathy

Group Mgt.

Use of Concepts

Systems Thinking

Pattern Recognition

Written Comm

Quantitative Analysis

Use of Tech.

 

SOME EVIDNECE

 

Efficiency Orientation

Initiative

Flexibility

 

Empathy

Networking

Social Obj.

 

Self Control

Attention to Detail

Developing Others

Persuasiveness

Negotiating

 

NO EVIDENCE

Planning (Attention to detail & Self Control were not coded)

Persuasiveness

Negotiating

Group Mgt.

Developing Others

Oral Comm.

 

 

 

 

NEGATIVE EVIDENCE

 

 

Pattern Recognition (Verbal)

 

 

 

 

Figure 3. Value-Added to Part-Time Students from the Old Vs. the New MBA Programs

Evidence of Value Old Program Added

 

New Program

 

Self Management

Social Awareness & Mgt.

Analytic Reasoning

Self Management

Social Awareness & Mgt.

Analytic Reasoning

STRONG EVIDENCE

 

Flexibility

 

Systems Thinking

Quantitative Analysis

.

 

Efficiency Orientation

Initiative

Flexibility

Attention to Detail

Self Confidence

Social Obj.

Networking

Oral Comm.

Group Mgt.

Developing Others

Use of Concepts

Written Comm

Use of Tech.

Pattern Recognition

Quantitative

Analysis

Systems Thinking

SOME EVIDNECE

 

Efficiency Orientation

 

Negotiating

Social Obj.

Written Comm.

Planning

Persuasiveness

Empathy

 

NO EVIDENCE

Self Confidence

Planning

Initiative

(Attention to Detail and Self Control were not coded)

Persuasiveness

Oral Comm.

Networking

Group Mgt.

Developing Others

 

Use of Concepts

Pattern Recognition

Self Control

 

 

NEGATIVE EVIDENCE

 

Empathy

Use of Tech.

 

 

 

 

Four cadres of full-time MBA students graduating in 1992, 1993, 1994, and 1995, showed improvement on 100% (7) of the competencies in the Self-Management cluster (e.g., Efficiency Orientation, Initiative, Flexibility) and 100% (8) of the competencies in the Social Awareness and Management cluster (e.g., Empathy, Networking, Group Management). Meanwhile the part-time MBA students graduating in 1994, 1995, and 1996 showed improvement on 86% (6 of 7) of the competencies in the Self-Management cluster and 100% (8) of the competencies in the Social Awareness and Management cluster. In a follow-up study of two of these graduating classes of part-time students, Wheeler (1999) showed that during the two years following graduation they continued to improve, statistically significantly, on an audiotaped, behavioral measure of two competencies in the Social Awareness and Management cluster (i.e., Empathy and Persuasiveness).

This is in contrast to MBA graduates of the WSOM of the 1988 and 1989 traditional full-time program who showed strong improvement in only 80% of the competencies in the Self-Management Cluster while part-time graduates of those two years showed improvement in only 40% of these competencies. With regard to the competencies in the Social Awareness and Management cluster, the full-time MBAs who showed improvement in only 38% of the competencies in the Social Awareness and Management cluster, while part-time graduates of those two years showed improvement in only 25% of these competencies.
In a longitudinal study of four classes completing the Professional Fellows Program (i.e., an executive education program at the Weatherhead School of Management), Ballou, Bowers, Boyatzis, and Kolb (1999) showed that 45-55 year old professional and executives statistically significantly improved on Self-confidence, Leadership, Helping, Goal Setting, and Action skills. These were 67% of the emotional intelligence competencies assessed in this study.

Self-Directed Learning
What these studies have shown is that adults learn what they want to learn. Other things, even if acquired temporarily (i.e., for a test), are soon forgotten (Specht and Sandlin, 1991). Students, children, patients, clients, and subordinates may act as if they care about learning something, go through the motions, but they proceed to disregard it or forget it-unless, it is something which they want to learn. Even in situations where a person is under threat or coercion, a behavioral change shown will typically extinguish or revert to its original form once the threat is removed. This does not include changes induced, willingly or not, by chemical or hormonal changes in one's body. But even in such situations, the interpretation of the changes and behavioral comportment following it will be affected by the person's will, values, and motivations.
In this way, it appears that most, if not all, sustainable behavioral change is intentional. Self-directed change is an intentional change in an aspect of who you are (i.e., the Real) or who you want to be (i.e., the Ideal), or both. Self-directed learning is self-directed change in which you are aware of the change and understand the process of change.

The process of self-directed learning is graphically shown in Figure 4 (Boyatzis, 1999; Boyatzis, 2001; Goleman, Boyatzis, McKee, 2002)). This is an enhancement of the earlier models developed by Kolb, Winter, and Berlew (1968), Boyatzis and Kolb (1969), Kolb and Boyatzis (1970a and b), and Kolb (1971). The description and explanation of the process in this chapter is organized in five sections. Each section starts with a point of discontinuity. That is, a part of the process that may not and often does not occur as a smooth, linear event. It occurs with a surprise. The person's behavior may seem to be stuck for long periods of time and then a change appears quite suddenly. This is a discontinuity. A person might begin the process of self-directed learning at any point in the process, but it will often begin when the person experiences a discontinuity, the associated epiphany or a moment of awareness and a sense of urgency.

This model describes the process as designed into a required course and the elements of the MBA and executive programs implemented in 1990 at the Weatherhead School of Management. Experimentation and research into the various components have resulted in refinement of these components and the model as discussed in this paper. For a detailed description of the course, read Boyatzis (1995, 1994).

Figure 4: Boyatzis' Theory of Self-Directed Learning (Download in PDF to view Figure 4)

The First Discontinuity: Catching Your Dreams, Engaging Your Passion
The first discontinuity and potential starting point for the process of self-directed learning is the discovery of who you want to be. Our Ideal Self is an image of the person we want to be. It emerges from our ego ideal, dreams, and aspirations, The last twenty years has revealed literature supporting the power of positive imaging or visioning in sports psychology, appreciative inquiry (Cooperrider, 1990), meditation and biofeedback research, and other psycho-physiological research. It is believed that the potency of focusing one's thoughts on the desired end state of condition is driven by the emotional components of the brain (Goleman, 1995). The Ideal Self is a reflection of the person's intrinsic drives. Numerous studies have shown that intrinsic motives have more enduring impact on a person's behavior than extrinsic motives (Deci and Ryan, 1985).

Our aspirations, dreams, and desired states are shaped by our values, philosophy (Boyatzis, Murphy, and Wheeler, 2000), life and career stages (Boyatzis and Kolb, 1999), motives (McClelland, 1985), role models, and other factors. This research indicates that we can access and engage deep emotional commitment and psychic energy if we engage our passions and conceptually catch our dreams in our Ideal Self-image.

It is an anomaly that we know the importance of consideration of the Ideal Self, and yet often, when engaged in a change or learning process we skip over the clear formulation or articulation of our Ideal Self image. If a parent, spouse, boss, or teacher, tells us something that should be different, they are giving us their version of our Ideal Self. They are telling us about the person they want us to be. The extent to which we believe or accept this image determines that extent to which it becomes part of our Ideal Self. Our reluctance to accept others' expectations or wishes for us to change is one of many reasons why we may not live up to others' expectations or wishes, and not change or learn according to their agenda! In current psychology, others' version of what our Ideal Self should be is referred to as the "Ought Self."

We may be victims of the expectations of others and the seductive power of popularized images from the media, celebrities, and our reference groups. In his book, The Hungry Spirit: Beyond Capitalism, A Quest for Purpose in the Modern World (1997), Charles Handy describes the difficulty of determining his ideal. "I spent the early part of my life trying hard to be someone else. At school I wanted to be a great athlete, at university an admired socialite, afterwards a businessman and, later, the head of a great institution. It did not take me long to discover that I was not destined to be successful in any of these guises, but that did not prevent me from trying, and being perpetually disappointed with myself. The problem was that in trying to be someone else I neglected to concentrate on the person I could be. That idea was too frightening to contemplate at the time. I was happier going along with the conventions of the time, measuring success in terms of money and position, climbing ladders which others placed in my way, collecting things and contacts rather than giving expression to my own beliefs and personality. (pg. 86)" In this way, we allow ourselves to be anesthetized to our dreams and lose sight of our deeply felt Ideal Self.

The Second Discontinuity: Am I a Boiling Frog?
The awareness of the current self, the person that others see and with whom they interact, is elusive. For normal reasons, the human psyche protects itself from the automatic "intake" and conscious realization of all information about ourselves. These ego-defense mechanisms serve to protect us. They also conspire to delude us into an image of who we are that feeds on itself, becomes self-perpetuating, and eventually may become dysfunctional (Goleman, 1985).

The "boiling frog syndrome" applies here. It is said that if one drops a frog into a pot of boiling water, it will jump out with an instinctive defense mechanism. But if you place a frog in a pot of cool water and gradually increase the temperature, the frog will sit in the water until it is boiled to death. These slow adjustments to changes are acceptable, but the same change made dramatically is not tolerated.

The greatest challenge to an accurate current self-image (i.e., seeing yourself as others see you and consistent with other internal states, beliefs, emotions, and so forth) is the boiling frog syndrome. Several factors contribute to it. First, people around you may not let you see a change. They may not give you feedback or information about how they see it. Also, they may be victims of the boiling frog syndrome themselves, as they adjust their perception on a daily basis. For example, when seeing a friend's child after two years, you may gasp as to how fast they have grown. Meanwhile, the parent is only aware of the child's growth when they have to buy new shoes, clothes, or a sudden change in the child's hormonal balance leading to previously unlikely behavior.

Second, enablers, those forgiving the change, frightened of it, or who do not care, may allow it to pass unnoticed. Our relationships and interpersonal context mediate and interpret cues from the environment. They help us interpret what things mean. You ask a friend, "Am I getting fat?" To which she responds, "No, you look great!" Whether this is reassuring to the listener or not, it is confusing and may not be providing feedback to the question asked. Of course, if she had said, "No, it is just the spread of age or normal effects of gravity" you may not have more useful information either.

In counseling sessions with effective CEOs and Managing Directors of not-for-profits, I have often been surprised by their lack of seeing themselves as leaders. Others may see them as leaders. Sometimes humility blocks this perception. Sometimes, it is the interpersonal or cultural context. On the planet Krypton, Superman was just another citizen without "supernatural" power. This lack of admitting that which is obvious to others to yourself can also occur when you have prolonged spiritual blackouts, losing sight of your core values and your philosophy.

Some organizational cultures will, as mentioned earlier, encourage a preoccupation with the "gaps." Some individuals have philosophies, or value orientations, that push them to focus on areas of improvement (i.e., a Pragmatic Value Orientation or philosophy, Boyatzis et. al., 2000, or a dominant underlying motive of the Need for Achievement, McClelland, 1985). Some individuals have such a low level of self-confidence or self-esteem that they assume they are unworthy and distrust positive feedback and focus on negative issues and the gaps.

For a person to truly consider changing a part of himself or herself, you must have a sense of what you value and want to keep. Likewise, to consider what you want to preserve about yourself involves admitting aspects of yourself that you wish to change or adapt in some manner. Awareness of these two and exploring them exist in the context of each other.

All too often, people explore growth or development by focusing on the "gaps" or deficiencies. Organizational training programs and managers conducting annual "reviews" often commit the same mistake. There is an assumption that we can "leave well enough alone" and get to the areas that need work. It is no wonder that many of these programs or procedures intended to help a person develop result in the individual feeling battered, beleaguered and bruised, not helped, encouraged, motivated, or guided. The gaps may get your attention because they disrupt progress or flow (Fry, 1998).
Exploration of yourself in the context of your environment (How am I fitting into this setting? How am I doing in the view of others? Am I part of this group or organization or family?) and examination of your Real Self in the context of your Ideal Self both involve comparative and evaluative judgments. A comprehensive view includes both strengths and weaknesses. That is, to contemplate change, one must contemplate stability. To identify and commit to changing parts of yourself you must identify those parts you want to keep and possibly enhance. In this way, adaptation does not imply or require "death" but evolution of the self.

There are four major "learning points" from the first two discontinuities in the self-directed learning process:

1) Engage your passion and create your dreams; and

2) Know thyself!

3) Identify or articulate both your strengths (those aspects of yourself you want to preserve) and your gaps or discrepancies of your Real and Ideal Selves (those aspects of yourself you want to adapt or change); and

4) Keep your attention on both characteristics, forces or factors-do not let one become the preoccupation!


All of these learning points can be achieved by finding and using multiple sources for feedback about your Ideal Self, Real Self, Strengths, and Gaps.

The sources of insight into your Real Self can include systematically collecting information from others, such as 360 degree feedback currently considered fashionable in organizations. Other sources of insight into your Real Self, Strengths and Gaps may come from behavioral feedback through videotaped or audiotaped interactions, such as collected in assessment centers. Various psychological tests can help you determine or make explicit inner aspects of your Real Self, such as values, philosophy, traits, motives, and such.

Sources for insight into your Ideal Self are more personal and more elusive than those for the Real Self. Various exercises and tests can help by making explicit various dreams or aspirations you have for the future. Talking with close friends or mentors can help. Allowing yourself to think about your desired future, not merely your prediction of your most likely future, is the biggest obstacle. These conversations and explorations must take place in psychologically safe surroundings. Often, the implicit norms of one's immediate social groups and work groups do not allow nor encourage such discussion. In this case, you may want to search for groups who are considering changing their lives in an academic program, career development workshop, or personal growth experience.

The Third Discontinuity: Mindfulness Through a Learning Agenda
The third discontinuity in self-directed learning is development of an agenda and focusing on the desired future. A learning orientation will replace a performance orientation for those organizations that thrive in the coming decades. While performance at work or happiness in life may be the eventual consequence of our efforts, a learning agenda focuses on development. Individuals with a learning agenda are more adaptive and oriented toward development. In one study, a learning agenda resulted in dramatically better presentations, whereas a performance agenda resulted in people becoming defensive, not wanting to fail or not wanting to look bad, and did not result in increased performance (Brett and VandeWalle, 1999). A learning orientation arouses a positive belief in one's capability and the hope of improvement. A learning agenda helps a person focus on what they want to become. This results in people setting personal standards of performance, rather than "normative" standards that merely mimic what others have done (Beaubien and Payne, 1999). Meanwhile, a performance orientation evokes anxiety and doubts about whether or not we can change (Chen et al, 2000). A performance agenda focuses on success, producing proof of our capability, and getting praise. Performance goals arouse the wrong parts of our brain for development. In studying sales achieved in a three-month promotion in the medical supply distribution business, a learning goal orientation predicted sales volume, a performance goal orientation did not.

As part of one of the longitudinal studies at the Weatherhead School of Management, Leonard (1996) showed that MBAs who set goals desiring to change on certain competencies, changed significantly on those competencies as compared to other MBAs. Previous goal setting literature had shown how goals affected certain changes on specific competencies (Locke and Latham, 1990), but had not established evidence of behavioral change on a comprehensive set of competencies that constitute emotional intelligence.

The major learning point from this section crucial in self-directed learning is: Create your own, personal learning agenda!

Others cannot tell you how you should change-they may tell you but it will not help you engage in the change process. Parents, teachers, spouses, bosses, and sometimes even your children will try to impose goals for change or learning. People only learn what they want to learn!

The late 1960's and early 1970's were witness to a widespread program in organizations called Management by Objectives. It was so popular that it spread to other arenas-- you could find books and workshops on Learning by Objectives, Teaching by Objectives, and so on and so forth. In all of these programs, there was one and only one approach to goal setting and planning taught. It specified development of behavioral specific, observable, time-phased, and challenging goals (i.e., involved moderate risk). Unfortunately, the one-size fits all approach lacked a credible alternative until McCaskey (1974) suggested that some people plan by "domain and direction setting." Later, as part of the Weatherhead longitudinal studies, McKee (1991) studied how MBA graduates planned personal improvement. She discovered four different styles of planning: objectives-oriented planning; domain and direction planning; task (or activity) oriented planning; and "present-oriented" planning. The latter appeared as an existential orientation to one's involvement in developmental activities, and could be considered a non-planning style.

A major threat to effective goal setting and planning is that people are already busy and cannot add anything else to their lives. In such cases, the only success with self-directed change and learning occurs if people can determine what to say "no" to and stop some current activities in their lives to make room for new activities.

Another potential challenge or threat is the development of a plan that calls for a person to engage in activities different than their preferred learning style or learning flexibility (Kolb, 1984; Boyatzis, 1994). In such cases, a person commits to activities, or action steps in a plan that require a learning style which is not their preference or not within their flexibility. When this occurs, a person becomes demotivated and often stops the activities, or becomes impatient and decides that the goals are not worth the effort.

The Fourth Discontinuity: Metamorphosis
The fourth discontinuity and potential start of self-directed learning is to experiment and practice desired changes. Acting on the plan and toward the goals involves numerous activities. These are often made in the context of experimenting with new behavior. Typically following a period of experimentation, the person practices the new behaviors in actual settings within which they wish to use them, such as at work or at home. During this part of the process, self-directed change and learning begins to look like a "continuous improvement" process.

To develop or learn new behavior, the person must find ways to learn more from current, or on-going experiences. That is, the experimentation and practice does not always require attending "courses" or a new activity. It may involve trying something different in a current setting, reflecting on what occurs, and experimenting further in this setting. Sometimes, this part of the process requires finding and using opportunities to learn and change. People may not even think they have changed until they have tried new behavior in a work or "real world" setting. Rhee (1997) studied full-time MBA students in one of the Weatherhead cadres over a two-year period. He interviewed, tested, and video and audio-taped them about every six to eight weeks. Even though he found evidence of significant improvements on numerous interpersonal abilities by the end of the second semester of their program, the MBA students did not perceive that they had changed or improved on these abilities until after they returned from their summer internships.

Dreyfus (1990) studied managers of scientists and engineers who were considered superior performers. Once she documented that they used considerably more of certain abilities than their less effective counterparts, she pursued how they developed some of those abilities. One of the distinguishing abilities was Group Management, also called Team Building. She found that many of these middle-aged managers had first experimented with team building skills in high school and college, in sports, clubs, and living groups. Later, when they became "bench scientists and engineers" working on problems in relative isolation, they still pursued use and practicing of this ability in activities outside of work. They practiced team building and group management in social and community organizations, such as 4-H Clubs, and professional associations in planning conferences and such.

The experimentation and practice are most effective when they occur in conditions in which the person feels safe (Kolb and Boyatzis, 1970b). This sense of psychological safety creates an atmosphere in which the person can try new behavior, perceptions, and thoughts with relatively less risk of shame, embarrassment, or serious consequences of failure.

The Fifth Discontinuity: Relationships that Enable Us to Learn
Our relationships are an essential part of our environment. The most crucial relationships are often a part of groups that have particular importance to us. These relationships and groups give us a sense of identity, guide us as to what is appropriate and "good" behavior, and provide feedback on our behavior. In sociology, they are called reference groups. These relationships create a "context" within which we interpret our progress on desired changes, the utility of new learning, and even contribute significant input to formulation of the Ideal (Kram, 1996). In this sense, our relationships are mediators, moderators, interpreters, sources of feedback, sources of support and permission of change and learning! They may also be the most important source of protection from relapses or returning to our earlier forms of behavior. Wheeler (1999) analyzed the extent to which the MBA graduates worked on their goals in multiple "life spheres" (i.e., work, family, recreational groups, etc.). In a two-year follow-up study of two of the graduating classes of part-time MBA students, she found those who worked on their goals and plans in multiple sets of relationships improved the most and more than those working on goals in only one setting, such as work or within one relationship.

In a study of the impact of the year-long executive development program for doctors, lawyers, professors, engineers, and other professionals mentioned earlier, Ballou et. al. (1999) found that participants gained self-confidence during the program. Even at the beginning of the program, others would say these participants were very high in self-confidence. It was a curious finding! The best explanation came from follow-up questions to the graduates of the program. They explained the evident increase in Self-confidence as an increase in the confidence to change. Their existing reference groups (i.e., family, groups at work, professional groups, community groups) all had an investment in them staying the same, meanwhile the person wanted to change. The Professional Fellows Program allowed them to develop a new reference group that encouraged change!

Based on social identity, reference group, and now relational theories, our relationships both meditate and moderate our sense of who we are and who we want to be. We develop or elaborate our Ideal Self from these contexts. We label and interpret our Real Self from these contexts. We interpret and value Strengths (i.e., aspects considered our core that we wish to preserve) from these contexts. We interpret and value Gaps (i.e., aspects considered weaknesses or things we wish to change) from these contexts.

The major learning points from the fourth and fifth discontinuities critical in self-directed learning process are:
(1) Experiment and practice and try to learn more from your experiences!
(2) Find settings in which you feel psychologically safe within which to experiment and practice! and
(3) Develop and use your relationships as part of your change and learning process!


Signposts on the Path to Change and Learning
In guiding yourself or others through the self-directed learning process, the learning points can be used as signposts, or benchmarks. If you do not feel that you have addressed the learning point, do not bother attempting to move forward. The process needs to slow down and either wait for the person to reach the learning point, or try another way to help the person. Please remember, people do not gain these discoveries or experience the epiphany of the discontinuity in a smooth manner. One person may take minutes to achieve a breakthrough of one discovery, and yet another discovery may take several days, weeks, months, or even years.

The signposts on the path to self-direct learning are:

1) Has the person engaged their passion and dreams? Can they describe the person they want to be, the life and work they want to have in the future? Can they describe their Ideal Self?

2) Does the person know himself or herself? Do they have a sense of their Real Self?

3) Can the person articulate both their strengths (those aspects he/she wants to preserve) and gaps or discrepancies between their Real and Ideal Selves (those aspects he/she wants to adapt or change)?

4) Has the person help their attention on both Strengths and Gaps- not letting one become the preoccupation?

5) Does the person have their own personal learning agenda? IS it really their own? Can the elements of the plan fit into the structure of their life and work? Do the actions fit with their learning style and flexibility?

6) Is the person experimenting and practicing new habits and actions? Is the person using their learning plan to learn more from their experiences?

7) Has the person found settings in which to experiment and practice in which he/she feels psychologically safe?

8) Is the person developing and utilizing his/her relationships as part of their learning process? Do they have coaches, mentors, friends, and others with whom they can discuss progress on their learning agenda? Do they have relationships with whom they can explore each their new behavior, habits, new Ideal Self, new Real Self, new strengths and gaps as the process unfolds?

9) Are they helping others engage in a self-directed learning process?

Concluding Thought
Our future may not be entirely within our control, but most of what we become is within our power to create. Hopefully, the self-directed learning process described in this chapter can provide a roadmap and guidance for how to increase the effectiveness of your change and learning efforts. As a concluding thought, I offer a few lines from the 1835 John Anster translation of Goethe's Faustus: A Dramatic Mystery. In the Prologue to the Theater, he says:


"What you can do, or dream you can, begin it,
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!"


References
Ballou, R., Bowers, D., Boyatzis, R.E., and Kolb, D.A. (1999). Fellowship in lifelong learning: An executive development program for advanced professionals. Journal of Management Education. 23(4), pp. 338-354.

Barlow, D.H. (1988). Anxiety and disorders: The nature and treatment of anxiety and panic. New York: The Guilford Press.

Beaubien, J.M. & Payne, S.C. (1999). Individual goal orientation as a predictor of job and academic performance: A meta-analytic review and integration. Paper presented at the meeting of the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, Atlanta, GA. April, 1999.

Boyatzis, R.E. (1994). Stimulating self-directed change: A required MBA course called Managerial Assessment and Development. Journal of Management Education, 18(3):304-323.

Boyatzis, R.E. (1999). Self-Directed Change and Learning as a Necessary Meta-Competency for Success and Effectiveness in the 21st Century. In Sims, R., and Veres, J.G. (eds.), Keys to Employee Success in the Coming Decades, Westport, CN: Greenwood Publishing.

Boyatzis, R.E.,(In Press). Developing emotional intelligence. In D. Goleman and C. Cherniss (eds.). Research and Theoretical Advances in Emotional Intelligence: Volume 1. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Boyatzis, R.E., Baker, A., Leonard, D., Rhee, K., and Thompson, L. (1995). Will it make a difference?: Assessing a value-based, outcome oriented, competency-based professional program. In Boyatzis, R.E., Cowen, S. S., and Kolb, D.A. (eds.), Innovating in professional education: Steps on a journey from teaching to learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Boyatzis, R.E. , Cowen, S.C., & Kolb, D.A. (1995) Innovation in Professional Education: Steps on a Journey from Teaching to Learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Boyatzis, R.E., and Kolb, D.A. (1969). Feedback and self-directed behavior change. Unpublished Working Paper #394-69. Sloan School of Management, MIT.

Boyatzis, R.E. and Kolb, D.A. (1999). Performance, learning, and development as modes of growth and adaptation throughout our lives and careers. In M. Peiperl, M.B. Arthur, R. Coffee, and T. Morris (eds.), Career frontiers: New conceptions of working lives. London: Oxford University Press. p. 76-98.

Boyatzis, R.E., Leonard, D., Rhee, K., and Wheeler, J.V. (1996). Competencies can be developed, but not the way we thought. Capability, 2(2). P.25-41.

Boyatzis, R.E., Murphy, A.J., and Wheeler, J.V. (2000). Philosophy as a missing link between values and behavior. Psychological Reports. 86. pp. 47-64.

Boyatzis, R.E., Wheeler, J., and R. Wright (in press). Competency development in graduate education: A longitudinal perspective, Proceedings of the First World Conference on Self-Directed Learning, GIRAT, Montreal.

Brett, J.F. & VandeWalle, D. (1999). Goal orientation and goal content as predictors of performance in a training program. Journal of Applied Psychology, 84(6). pp. 863-873.

Chen, G., Gully, S. M., Whiteman, J.A., & Kilcullen, R. N. (2000). Examination of relationships among trait-like individual differences, state-like individual differences, and learning performance. Journal of Applied Psychology. 85(6). pp. 835-847.

Cooperrider, D.L. (1990). Positive image, positive action: The affirmative basis of organizing. In Srivastva, S. et. al. (eds.). Appreciative management and leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, pp. 91-125.

Cutter, H., Boyatzis, R.E. & Clancy, D. (1977). The effectiveness of power motivation training for rehabilitating alcoholics. Journal of Studies on Alcohol, 38(1).

Dreyfus, C. (1990). The characteristics of high performing managers of scientists and engineers. An Unpublished Doctoral Dissertation, Case Western Reserve University.

Fry, R. (1993). Change and Continuity in Organizational growth. In Srivastva et. al. (eds.), Executive Change and Continuity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. pp.

Goleman, D. (1985). Vital lies, simple truths: The psychology of self-deception. NY: Simon and Schuster.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Goleman, D. (1998). Working with emotional intelligence. NY: Bantam.

Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R.E., McKee, A. (In Press). Leadership and Emotional Intelligence. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Handy, C. (1997). The hungry spirit: Beyond capitalism, a quest for purpose in the modern world. London: Hutchinson.

Hubble, M.A., Duncan, B.L., and Miller, S.D. (eds.). (1999). The heart and soul of change: What works in therapy. Washington D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Kanfer, F.H., and Goldstein, A.P. (eds.). (1991). Helping people change: A textbook of methods 4th Edition. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

Kolb, D.A., Winter, S.K., and Berlew, D.E. (1968). Self-directed change: Two studies. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science. 6(3). pp. 453-471.

Kolb, D.A. (1971). A Cybernetic model of human change and growth. Unpublished Working Paper #526-71. Sloan School of Management, MIT.

Kolb, D.A., and Boyatzis, R.E. (1970a). On the dynamics of the helping relationship. Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, 6(3), 267-289.

Kolb, D.A., and Boyatzis, R.E. (1970b). Goal-setting and self -directed behavior change. Human Relations, 23(5), 439-457.

Kolb, D.A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

Kram, K. E. (1996). A Relational Approach to Careers. In D. T. Hall (ed.) The Career is Dead: Long Live the Career, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers, pp.132-157.

Leonard, D. (1996). The impact of learning goals on self-directed change in management development and education. Doctoral dissertation, Case Western Reserve University.

Locke, E.A., and Latham, G.P. (1990). A theory of goal setting and task performance. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

McCaskey, M.B. (1974). A contingency approach to planning: Planning with goals and without goals. Academy of Management Journal. 17(2). pp. 281-291.

McClelland, D.C. (1985). Human motivation. Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman.

McClelland, D.C. and Winter, D.G. (1969). Motivating Economic Achievement. NY: Free Press.

McKee (London), A. (1991). Individual differences in planning for the future. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio.

Miron, D. and McClelland, D.C. (1979). The impact of achievement motivation training on small business. California Management Review. 21(4). pp. 13-28.

Morrow, C.C., Jarrett, M.Q., and Rupinski, M.T. (1997). An investigation of the effect and economic utility of corporate-wide training. Personnel Psychology. 50, 91-119.

Pascarella, E.T. and Terenzini, P.T. (1991). How college affects students: Findings and insights from twenty years of research. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Rhee, K. (1997). Journey of discovery: A longitudinal study of learning during a graduate professional program. An unpublished dissertation, Case Western Reserve University.

Specht, L. and Sandlin, P. (1991). The differential effects of experiential learning activities and traditional lecture classes in accounting. Simulations and Gaming, 22(2):196-210.

Wheeler, J.V. (1999). The impact of social environments on self-directed change and learning. An unpublished doctoral dissertation. Case Western Reserve University.

Winter, D.G., McClelland, D.C., and Stewart, A.J. (1981). A new case for the liberal arts: Assessing institutional goals and student development. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

 

Page Tools
Share this resource with others

 

 

EI Consortium Copyright Policy

Any written material on this web site can be copied and used in other sources as long as the user acknowledges the author of the material (if indicated on the web site) and indicates that the source of the material was the web site for the Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (www.eiconsortium.org).