Teaching and Leading Positively, Part 4: A Proactive Tool for Discussing Transformation

January 27, 2013

By: Robert E. Quinn

Originally posted on the LIFT Blog

This six-part series, “Teaching and Leading Positively,” explores the goals of teaching positive leadership: not merely to serve as an instructor conveying the theories or practices drawn for positive organizational scholarship, but to prompt lasting transformation in the way our students work and live. Serving as this kind of catalyst requires full engagement on our part. We must live from the positive leadership framework, allowing our students to learn by our example, each other’s, and their own.

Teaching people how to transform and how to stimulate transformation is very difficult. The life assumptions of normal people are tied to survival assumptions—not to flourishing.

When I teach I have to entice people to explore things that violate what they want to believe. So I am always hungry for conceptual tools that will help people think about transformation in new ways. This week one of my friends sent me the following passage by Richard Rohr, the Franciscan priest who founded the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM:

Historically speaking, in most cultures the role of men has been to create, to make new things, to fix broken things, and to defend us from things which could hurt us. All of these are wonderful and necessary roles for the preservation of the human race.

However, most children saw their mother in a different way. She was not a creator, a fixer, or a defender, but rather a transformer.

Once a woman has carried her baby inside of her body for nine months and brought it forth, through the pain of childbirth, into the world, she knows the mystery of transformation at a cellular level. She knows it intuitively, yet she usually cannot verbalize it, nor does she need to. She just holds it at a deeper level of consciousness. She knows something about mystery, about miracles, and about transformation that men will never know (which is why males had to be initiated!). Women who are not mothers often learn it by simply being in the “community of women.”

The feminine body can be seen as a cauldron of transformation. Her body turns things into other things—her body turns a love act into a perfect little child. Yet, in her heart, she knows SHE did not do it. All she had to do was to wait and eat well, to believe and to hope for nine months. This gives a woman a very special access to understanding spirituality as transformation—if she is able to listen to her own experience and her own body. Admittedly, not all women do.

This is a provocative passage. I believe it could form the basis of a useful teaching exercise. I would suggest distributing it and asking students to rewrite it in their own words. Then I would ask students to pair up, read their new statements to each other, and then list what they learned. The teacher could then lead a discussion of the major learning points. My bet is that the discussion would be highly animated and full of insight.