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Why write a book about Gestalt leadership in fiction form?

Thursday, September 19th, 2013

By Nancy Hardaway

 

What does fiction and Gestalt have in common?

 

People have asked me why did I write my book The Awareness Paradigm in fiction, when I wanted to teach leadership theory and behavior.   Why write about Cesar and Fletcher, Mark and Redley?  Why write about their coach, Julia? It was a way of “showing, not telling.” A way of creating some of the feel and touch of a GISC program.

 

Whether as student or teacher, my richest learning opportunities contain only small bits of talking at, and lots of opportunity to experience new things through exercises and practicum groups.  Where I learn not only from different faculty with varied styles that I resonate more or less to, but also from participants, hearing their stories and sharing my own.  And… I have a bit of fun!

 

Further, I know that we rarely learn from being exposed to something once (okay, maybe being burned would be an exception).  We need to engage with it, chew on it, see it again in a different light or a different context, try it, hear it again, etc.

 

For us, Gestalt learning occurs not just by doing but through reflection, as primary a tool as didactic, experience and practice.   With schedules so rushed, many leaders come to leadership training and are both discomforted and refreshed by the time set aside for reflection.  Research shows it is a primary skill of highly successful leaders.

 

In a recent Harvard Alumni Magazine, I just read about a task force called the Harvard Initiative for Learning and Teaching (HILT).  At a recent HILT symposium, psychologists and educators talked about new research on cognition and learning.

 

They emphasized the importance of learning how to think, and of practice and cumulative engagement (successive relearning of foundational knowledge).   One academic who studies strategies that promote durable learning said that students need to learn how to learn.   A professor from Harvard Business School explained that they no longer find its case method – talking about what to do – as useful as actually doing.  So Harvard is finally figuring out what Gestalt faculty have always known.

 

How could I create some facsimile of the Gestalt learning experience to teach Gestalt concepts in a book?  Experiences.  Connection.  Practice, repetition, reflection.  Fun. How could I create that support which is an important piece of leadership training? I first sought out support for myself as writer, from Joe Melnick – who asked me questions, and kept my going when I flagged.

 

I thought briefly about writing a book of theory with lots of exercises to try, but I was intrigued by the idea of stories. After all, down through the ages, people have learned through stories, connecting with the characters and internalizing the lessons.  We learn best when our whole brain is involved – intellect and emotion.

 

Most importantly, leadership happens not in a vacuum, but only in relation to others, and our growth as leaders happens in the way we relate to ourselves, so I needed a vehicle to demonstrate the space within and the space between us.

 

I also knew the characters would have to learn as we all do, incrementally and with fits and starts, defaulting back to old behaviors under stress.  This is especially true for adult learners who have fixed patterns that have been reinforced for years.  They get excited about something new at a program and then are return home to be bombarded with emails and crises and catch-up, and the new learning tends to slip away.  That’s why coaching and ongoing reinforcement is so useful, and why leadership training has far more ROI when that occurs.

 

I envisioned leaders with unique styles and challenges from different organizations, coming together to solve a common problem.  Those first wisps of characters came to life in a role play for which I recruited students in the first GISC coaching program. Although their efforts took just over an hour, that experience allowed me to interact with the characters and see them interacting with one another. They jumped off the page after that, diverging wildly from the participants who played them.   A surprise character came in and the story started to have the page turning qualities of a mystery – a bit of fun!

 

Just as I sometimes forget about reflection for myself, and often have to remind my leader clients to include it in their days, I almost forgot about including reflection for the reader, but it happened by accident.  Once the book was designed, there ended up being some blank pages because publishing convention calls for chapters to start on the right facing page.  I decided to take those randomly spaced blank left pages and use them as reflection points for the reader.   On Joe’s urging, I also added an appendix with a chapter by chapter summary of the plot and primary lessons so a reader or team could go back and reflect alone or together, as well as an appendix of theory for the layman (a bit of didactic, if you will).

 

There’s no way a simple book could possibly replicate the richness of a Gestalt program, but hopefully, this book will reinforce that richness for those who’ve taken a program, and introduce Gestalt learning and experience to those who haven’t.

 

The Awareness Paradigm: A Story of Leadership Success is available in GISC’s online bookstore and at your favorite online book retailers.

 

Nancy Hardaway, MEd,  is a member of the GISC faculty and internationally known leadership consultant, combining her experience as a serial entrepreneur and corporate executive with an avid curiosity in human behavior and neuroscience.  A former journalist, banker, and CEO, she is a certified leadership coach and holds degrees from Tufts University and Harvard University.  Follow Nancy on the Listening 2 Leaders blog.

 

 

GISC’s Coaching Program Newly Accredited by ICF

Monday, February 25th, 2013

I am excited to share with you that GISC has received Accredited Coach Training Program (ACTP) status from the International Coach Federation (ICF) for our initial coach training program, Competency Development Program for Coach Certification, Skills for High Impact Coaching.

The energy and expertise that went into the design and development of the program was tremendous and produced a program that can be differentiated in the marketplace.  The first graduating class helped us pilot the program and gave us the information we needed to apply for accreditation.  They were wonderful and received their GISC Coach Certification upon graduation in June 2012 and are now busy applying to the ICF for further credentialing.  The group is out there coaching and making a difference in the world.  Congratulations and a special thanks goes to them for all their work.

Our second group of coaching participants will graduate in April 2013.  And we are thrilled to be working to bring this and other coaching programs to Europe. So please watch for more information which will be coming out soon.

I will also share with you that GISC has 15 programs approved by the ICF for continuing education credit.  The programs are designed to teach the 11 ICF competencies and our 20 Gestalt Core Concepts and Behaviors. That, combined with the quality of our expert faculty, allows us to differentiate our programs from others.

Please visit www.gisc.org/practitioners on our website where you will find detailed descriptions of the Competency Development Program for Coach Certification, Skills for High Impact Coaching and our other programs that will support your development and learning.  Or, call our office at 508-349-7900 for more information.  We would love to hear from you.

Mary Anne Walk

 

Dream Big, Start Small, Act Now

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

By Jodi Paloni

The only thing better than facing challenging life transitions with intention, is meeting them head-on with a room full of equally excited people confronting similar, yet unique, developing edges. You realize there is nothing to be afraid of. You’re part of an ever-growing “in” crowd.

Last spring, on the brink of turning fifty, I’d just about finished my coaching certification program at the Gestalt International Study Center, ready to start a new career after 25-years of teaching. My partner and I were recently engaged to be married, his father needing more and more care six hours away in Pennsylvania. If those weren’t enough transitions for one plate, we found ourselves shocked by news that I would become a grandmother by winter. Did I mention we had decided to put our house in Vermont on the market to move closer to the ocean?

As conditions gathered for the perfect storm, I received an e-mail invitation from GISC to attend a program called The Next Phase: Life Strategies for Navigating Personal and Professional Transitions. It took me about sixty-seconds to sign up.

But this four-day workshop turned out to be far more than a short-course in strategies for moving forward. Instead, I was asked to take stock of where I resided presently (emotionally, physically, mentally) in my life, by engaging in a creative exploration of the past that led me there. What struck me, as I spent time alone, remembering and sketching a pictorial view of “The Experiences That Shaped Me,” then shared my discoveries in a small group, was the tendency I had to assign meaning and value to particular memories. Water as part of place was definitely a factor. Surprisingly, the role my three grandmothers played in shaping my character emerged in great proportions compared to some other events such as travel and education.

The group sharing was powerful. When it was my turn to talk, I heard new ideas about my life coming from my own mouth before I had a chance to think them.  More important, in the careful listening to others’ stories, I found resonance with the meaning in their lives, again and again. The model of participatory learning fueled my growth whether it was my story on the table, or not. When others spoke, I gleaned aspects of myself that had not yet emerged. The experience was mutual. My excitement in this realization confirmed my passion for courageous conversation, supporting my new career path as coach.

The beauty of the GISC workshop model schedule is that there is loads of “free time” built into each day. A long walk on the beach at lunchtime to think about what my grandmothers mean to me, to dream about the kind of grandmother I want to become, for example, became invaluable for the integration of the morning material. The calming presence of the sea settled deep in my bones, substantiating my growing need to locate closer to water. My questions were complex, my style creative. The intricate all-encompassing design of the course met my need to immerse in a composite of experiences. Down time scheduled after morning work established energy for fresh work in the afternoons.

Mining the past readied me for “Mapping My Current Life” a visual memoir of the present. In activating the right side of the brain, the theoretical voice in the head, the part of the brain that thinks linearly, the voices that have solidified my default script all of these years, would be sidestepped temporarily to allow the true story to manifest from the sub-conscious.

I found my map resembling three over-lapping cloud shapes to represent my three roles in life: woman, mother, professional. The size of each cloud, unplanned, bore significance. I noticed the spaces marked mother and professional were diminished more than if I had made the map a few years back, when a single mother in a full-time career, allowed for little room for space me as a woman. Yet, when a large green triangle block signifying money appeared on the paper, spearing my professional “cloud,” I could see that it was time for growth as a professional to, once again, be considered as significant part of the future. Fortunately, the workshop allowed for process time to view the work, make connections, generate meaning, and use what I now understood about my overall journey to “Envision the Future.”

Getting back to the script I’d played in my head until now, The Next Phase workshop offers a powerful opportunity to challenge those loud-mouthed demons, the voices in our heads, that tell us why we can’t be or have or do what we want in our futures, the voices that keep us small. Instead of moving forward with our new ideas and plans, we were asked first to pause, to take the much needed time to validate the presence of negative thoughts and degrading influences. How might the past stand in our way?

Up to this point in the workshop, we’d used visual pictorial learning modalities and the more conventional communication skills to engage the curriculum. Now we found ourselves up on our feet, fully immersed in a potent role-playing session, in which we could, literally, “break-through the self-talk” and re-construct the messages we’d prefer to hear.

I’d attended three transition retreats, earned a master’s degree and a coach certification in the past three years from various institutions and centers with the purpose to discover my calling for the third phase of life, hone a purpose, see the clear path. I’d heard inspirational speakers, received one-on-one coaching sessions, made collages, read books, wrote in reams, and listened to self-help tapes. I had even worked with a clairvoyant who comforted me by confirming things I already sensed about myself. But it wasn’t until I was surrounded by a circle of new friends, comrades who held a sincere desire to support each other’s dreams and visions, who spoke the words that would not hold me by my ankles, but words that would lead me forward, that I felt clear-minded in my vision. With clarity, I bought in.

Recently my younger daughter purchased a digital camera that requires knowing how to use a lens. I stood beside her as she received instruction on the basics of aperture. My experience of The Next Phase was just that. Over the four-days, I scanned the landscape of self. I studied the background and honed the foreground until a figure emerged and became the point of interest. And like in the well-made photographs I favor, the focal point in a scene or a portrait becomes more notable when the landscape informs its position in the piece.

On the final day, I reviewed the overall composition of my vision once more, a “fattening of the figure” and developed an action plan, which included tangible and deliverable actions for achieving SMART goals. In a nutshell, the overall strategy I took away from the weekend, in the words of our facilitator, was this… “dream big, start small, act now.”

In writing this, I have spread before me the maps I made, the notes I took, the poems and journal entries crafted beside the sea, and the list of the seventeen participants in my cohort. It was difficult to say good-bye to a group that shared so deeply and generously, and the feeling of support we held for one another. I’m certain that if any one of them was to stop and think of me today, it would be with only the best intentions for my success and happiness, just as I think of them.

As for my plan, to believe in the gifts I developed and the dreams I’ve created and to offer them to grandbabies and the whole wide world alike, I’m working on it, step-by-step, every day, a little closer to the past, the present, and the future.

   
Gestalt International Study Center
P.O. Box 515, South Wellfleet, MA 02663
Phone: +1 555 123 4567