Q1: Starting with your personal analysis of the Marshak and Grant article (2008) and then incorporating other readings, please discuss how reflective practice using dialogic methods has changed the way we may think about and then practice leadership development and organizational change.
A1: As noted by Marshak and Grant (2008), current trends in the field of organizational development (OD) are based on the methodological and axiological shift from the modernist notions of the transcendental and objective truth toward the acceptance of the competing narratives as fundamental aspects of social reality. The notion of organizational discourse should thus be understood as a variety of forms of “production, dissemination and consumption” (Marshak & Grant 2008, p.S11) of the competing perspectives and related narratives represented and reflected by the respective organizational actors.
Accordingly, the notions of leadership should be regarded as interconnected with the mutually competing, yet interdependent, perspectives on decision making that may be offered by those workers that are usually deemed incompetent with regard to leaderful practice. Raelin (2003) emphasizes that the treatment of one’s subordinates within corporate organizations as utterly management-dependent or deprived of the capacity to suggest operational alternatives of their own would lead to the rise of “malicious compliance” (Raelin 2003, p.126), entailing the potentially disastrous consequences for the organization’s development.
In contrast to the monologic forms of leadership, associated with the previous modes of organizational development, the reflective practices arisen out of the organizational discourse perspective seek to “unveil the ways in which collective patterns of thinking and feeling unfold” (Isaacs 1993, p.26), hence enabling the management to take into account the viewpoints and opinions of their employees/subordinates. In so doing, the more complex and manifold overview of the organization’s social context is made possible, contributing to the development of leaderful practice and organizational change.
Q2: In particular, how have constructivist points of view and methods altered the positivist orientation of an objective reality when it comes to the contribution of dialogue to leadership?
A2: The rise of social constructivism as the emergent paradigm of organizational inquiry contributed to the recognition of the intersubjective nature of social reality, which would entail the acknowledgement of the fact that each and every organization as a social construct is “created, conveyed, and reinforced through discourse,” which may assume the form of “theories, stories, narratives, myths,” and the other discursive experiences that comprise the holistic reality of organization as a discursive creation (Marshak & Grant 2008, p.S11).
Proceeding from this perspective, the constructivists focus their attention on such aspects of leadership and organizational change as the means by which the discursive practices in place may influence the dominant forms of thinking related to organizational change (Marshak & Grant 2008, p.S13), or, alternatively, based on the notion of dynamics of power, as the basis for organizational discourses (p.S14). The latter dimension is specifically relevant from the viewpoint of leadership studies, as social constructivist methodologies would allow the researchers to focus upon the structural differences between organizational actors engaged in respective dialogues, as well as such dialogues’ impact upon the maintenance/change in leadership hierarchies within the organization.
Furthermore, organizational discourse, as expressed via dialogue, may perform a function of the means of the organizational change, as directed by the dialogue’s leading actor(s). The development of the new discourse through dialogical form would enable the leadership to shape and alter the mindsets of their subordinates, contributing to the organizational change in the desirable direction (Marshak & Grant 2008, pp.S15-S16).
Q3: Might reflective practice be a more viable form of discourse, compared to either straightforward communications or objective analyses when it comes to organizing social change? Why?
A3: The reflective practice, such as that of the dialogic inquiry, would enable the groups and individuals to engage in both double- and triple-loop organizational learning, further contributing to the greater efficiency of organizational learning and, subsequently, performance (Isaacs 1993). The development of shared environment enabled by reflective practice would combine the fluidity and volatility of the usual interpersonal communications with the relative orderliness of the traditional negotiations (Isaacs 1993, p.32). Accordingly, the implementation of reflexive practice-based inquiry would enable the participants to consider their mutual viewpoints “as valid and as part of a single system” (Isaacs 1993, p.33), contributing to the greater stability of the organization from the systemic perspective.
Furthermore, the flow of meaning carried out by the means of dialogue would logically find its culmination in the metalogue-based model of decision making, i.e. in the development of the new creative modes of organizational activities (Isaacs 1993). Hence, the emergence of the reflective practice-based organizational discourse would lead to the greater creativity in the field of leadership and organizational change.
Q4: What should be the roles of conversation, context, and contention in leadership?
A4: Following Raelin (2003), it may be asserted that the development of leaderful practice would require greater consideration of the resources provided by the reflective practice methods, including the ones associated with the contextual dimension thereof. Proceeding from the aforementioned, it is possible to delineate several aspects pertaining to the roles of conversation, context, and contention in leaderful practice.
The problem of conversation has already been partially covered in the preceding sections. The double-loop learning, as characterized by Isaacs (1993), would strive to “help individuals and organizations examine and change the underlying assumptions…behind their actions” (Isaacs 1993, p.30). Accordingly, the leader should use the instruments offered by conversation to induce the double-loop based thinking and penchant for organizational learning in the subordinates, so that the latter may be able to engage in leaderful practice by themselves (Raelin 2003).
On the other hand, the contextual dimension of leadership is explicitly connected to the dominant discourse present in the organizational thinking at large (Marshak & Grant 2008). By shaping and changing the mindsets of the organizational actors via the means of double-loop learning, organizational leaders may bend the context of their organization’s discourse, further enhancing their authority.
Finally, the concept of contention would play an important role in the development of triple-loop learning as an important leaderful practice’s tool. By presenting points of contention as to the organizational goals and other similar premises, the leader would be able to change the mindsets of his/her followers in the innovative and sometimes contrarian direction, facilitating the intensive and successful organizational change (Isaacs 1993).