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Alumni News

Transforming Leadership

How our Transformative Leadership grads change society

Jocelyn Chapman, Ph.D. December 5, 2017

In this series, the Transformative Leadership community at CIIS explores the transformative potential of leadership during these times of great uncertainty and change. Integrating personal stories with academic learning and professional experience, Transformative Leadership faculty, students, and alums will describe the role of transformative leadership in their life and work.

Students and faculty agree that one of the things that make The Transformative Leadership M.A. program at CIIS so stimulating and effective is the people in it. The program attracts diverse students who share a drive to make a positive difference in the world.

Getting Started 

Each semester begins with a residential Intensive, allowing students and faculty to engage one another in person. There are also guest speakers, workshops, entertainment, and other activities. One of my favorite events is Open Space Technology, where individuals choose the themes of conversations they feel passionate about participating in. Open Space is an example of self-organized leadership; participants set the agenda and choose what meetings to join and for how long.

Online Community 

The rest of the semester is spent online, in sustained conversations designed to aid students in developing their personal leadership styles and identifying the values and beliefs that guide their goals and actions. In the process, students learn how beliefs are culturally conditioned and how lasting change pivots on changing minds (attitudes and beliefs).

Beliefs about power and justice are interrogated, biases are uncovered, and values are clarified. This is what makes the program so effective--students bring their own beliefs into the conversation, connecting their lived experiences to the topic at hand.

Books, articles, speeches, movies, and other materials are used as springboards to discuss how individuals make sense of power and empowerment, for example. Students learn to engage diverse viewpoints and respectfully challenge one another. They experiment with new ways of knowing and learn how to think systemically about the issues that matter most to them. For those who have not experienced seminar-style online education, it may be difficult to imagine the intimacy and depth of conversation possible.

At CIIS, the faculty model and expect candid discourse and instill a spirit of exploration that makes learning to think differently possible. Even students who have experienced significant personal transformation before entering the program testify that Transformative Leadership significantly changed how they think and therefore act.

Transforming Leadership 

The Transformative Leadership program could change the way leadership is practiced. It fosters an inquiry into leadership that is not based on conventional leadership handbooks. From everyday leadership to leading social movement pioneers, students examine models and case studies from which they develop their own leadership style. Graduates lead their own lives with confidence as they work toward transforming society, whether their efforts are in strengthening democracy, improving quality of life, or promoting equity and social justice.

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