Gonzaga Journey

The following tells the story of my time as a student at Gonzaga pursuing my master’s in Organizational Leadership. Each course note is accompanied by an “artifact” that reflects on a particular takeaway from each experience.


ORGL 600: Foundations of Leadership

In my early standing meetings when I first became a manager, I would ask my colleague (“Caleb”) where he would like to begin. “At the beginning” would be Caleb’s response, every time. The Foundations course brought me back to the days of being a first-time manager — knowing I had much to offer and much to learn. In those nascent months, I began to truly understand that leadership is not simply a hierarchical role of authority, but a serious responsibility founded by influence. It’s as Peter Northouse wrote, “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.” [1]

Artifact: Final post from Ignatian Questions Journal


ORGL 605: Imagine, Create, Lead

This course was one of the major selling points of the ORGL program — an opportunity to gather with my peers in an immersive experience and explore some of the subjective realities of leadership. With the arrival of Covid-19, the immersion translated to online delivery. This was very close to the start of the pandemic, and the most fascinating takeaway was learning more about my fellow students by being immediately “beamed” into their homes. The notion of Ignatian “deconstruction” — realizing that the old way no longer works — struck me in this experience, and encouraged me to see situations as more “gray” than “black and white.”

Artifact: A visual representation of “seeing, and seeing again


ORGL 504: Organizational Communication

The course’s early materials appeared daunting, especially our foundational book — as a 500-page text is wont to do. However, the authors penned a simple, underlying thesis that inspired a commitment from me to better understand the nature of organizational exchange. They note, “Whenever people have depended on one another to complete tasks or meet their needs, they have formed organizations.” [2] After further reading, I was reminded how every actor within an organization “…brings a complex set of beliefs, values, history, and expectations into the system,” so for our culminating project work, I chose to focus on an external organization to ensure I could objectively learn about, research, and respond to organizational actors in an objective way. [3] This notion of looking objectively at organizational structures, teams, and behaviors was strengthened through this course’s work and exchanges with peers, leading the way to look clearly at all my future efforts that regard organizational growth.

Artifact: Note on mimetic influence and the pandemic


ORGL 610: Communication and Leadership Ethics

By far this was the most challenging learning experience of my degree. Not simply was the content difficult, the larger context around ethics is not always clear. As our professor often suggested, ethics is a matter of “oughtness,” which like much in organizational life is not always simple to define — sometimes understandably so. However, one fundamental idea stayed with me from the course: “Within any organization are competing goods that require negotiation in order for the organization to carry out its work… Disaster rests with the inarticulate, a failure to take account of the organizational mission and purpose explicit in day-to-day life.“ [4] Though we may not always be able to pinpoint the absolute ethical direction or decision, finding the most right ethic rests in openness, clarity, and accountability.

Artifact: Personal ethics statement


ORGL 535: Listen, Discern, Decide

Simply put, the knowledge and sentiments learned during this course fully transformed my outlook on not only leadership, but organizational life writ large. Though I slowly began to subscribe to Peter Northouse’s definition that leadership is about “influence,” I still had a difficult time keeping myself out of the spotlight. I believed leadership was about doing and guiding the way from the front. Sentiments from Robert Greenleaf, Larry Spears, Paul Davis, and many others upended my view. It was serendipitous to experience this course during a global health crisis, when the notion of “what to do” seemed like an impossible question to answer. The servant-leadership tenets of listening, being comfortable in silence, and doing the most right thing for the growth of people became not only clear, they became inspiring, aspirational goals.

Artifact: Listening, discernment, and decision-making (Presentation)


ORGL 530: Servant Leadership

Near the end of ORGL 535, I felt a strange sense of impending loss. My organizational world had been turned upside down and I invited counsel from Professor Spears on how to continue the journey. His advice was simple: continue the journey. I immediately registered for ORGL 530 and dived more deeply into Robert Greenleaf’s foundational texts, as well as contemporary voices on the subject — James Sipe, Don Frick, John Henry Horsman, and others. My culminating project (the artifact below) was a primer for how to communicate basic ideals of servant-leadership through some higher-level references, as well as a few tactical practices. This course was more forward-looking than ORGL 535, because it gave me two goals. First, I knew that my capstone project for the ORGL program would focus on grounding the characteristics of servant-leadership in tangible ways to improve my work as a nonprofit fundraiser. The other goal was to write an academic article on how servant-leadership changed me as a leader — an article that was recently accepted into the International Journal of Servant Leadership.

Artifact: Training, developing, and communicating with present and future servant-leaders (Presentation)


ORGL 615: Organizational Theory and Behavior

Though each course requires posting and engaging with our peers, I was not anticipating the level of collaboration we found in this course — nor was I expecting it to be so fun. I recalled being very interested in the notion of systems thinking during Organizational Communication, though being able to fully understand the events, patterns, and structures that comprise the reality of everyday organizational life. [5] In the course exercises, I began looking at recurring issues I was seeing in my work and volunteer lives, and charted ways to not simply bring them into the light, but to identify real, actionable solutions. Systems thinking, in particular, became an obvious tenet that would weave into my capstone project on servant-leadership and philanthropy —specifically under the notion of conceptualization. Beyond the course learnings, I am proud to say that our collaborative working group — the “Team 3” quintet that summited Mount Everest for one of the course exercises — has built a very strong, ongoing friendship well beyond the program.

Artifact: Lessons learned from Mount Everest exercise


ORGL 506: Leadership and Diversity

Although it was outside of my intended vision for the program, I felt a compelling need to focus some of my degree on diversity. It would have been imprudent to explore the notions of organizational leadership without acknowledging the differences that exist between workers. Brenda Allen’s Difference Matters was an especially moving text, helping me think about difference in terms of the “…ways that each of us can vary from one another.” [6] This simple view is a clear lens through which I now look at all the ways my colleagues can lean into our differences to build the best possible organizations. Especially in my nonprofit line of work, I grappled with this in a healthy way, inspiring the artifact referenced below — a presentation on why organizations either need to change or perish.

Artifact: On leading and difference: Why our organization must grow to adapt and thrive (Presentation)


ORGL 518: Transforming Leadership

Though I knew my capstone work would center around servant-leadership, it was ironically an underlying transforming leadership notion that cemented my focus. They are similar in that they both build connection and growth through morality, yet both leave considerable room for interpretation. In speaking about the grandfather of transforming leadership, James MacGregor Burns, Mary Miller suggests that “Burns does not state what specific behaviours are used to enable the end goals…” [7] It occurred to me that much leadership writing and scholarship floats in a theoretical space. Burns himself wrote on causation, metamorphosis, and other details, though there seems to be very little in the way of a roadmap (or field guide) to lead transformitavely. [8] This was the golden ticket for my culminating work — to create such a document that nonprofit workers can use to activate on specific ideals.

Artifact: Concluding note from transforming leadership essay


Endnotes

[1] Northouse, P. G. (2019). Leadership: Theory and practice. SAGE. (Original work published in 2015). (p. 5)

[2] Conrad, C. R. & Poole, M. S. (2012). Strategic organizational communication in a global economy. Wiley-Blackwell. (p. 75)

[3] Ibid, (p. 38)

[4] Arnett, R. C., Fritz, J. H., & McManus, L. B. (2017). Communication ethics literacy: Dialogue & difference. Kendall Hunt. (p. 135)

[5] Anderson, V. & Johnson, L. (1997). Systems thinking basics: From concepts to causal loops. Pegasus.

[6] Allen, B. J. (2011). Difference matters: Communicating social identity. Waveland Press. (p. 4)

[7] Miller, M. (2006). Transforming Leadership: What does love have to do with it? Transformation, 23(2), (p. 94)

[8] Burns, J. M. (2003). Transforming leadership: A new pursuit of happiness. Grove Press.