Transformative Action Learning to be Featured at April Conference
Transformative action learning is a method widely used to equip leaders for the challenges they encounter in their organizations. In an upcoming honorary lecture and workshop as part of the XVII April International Academic Conference on Economic and Social Development, Robert Kramer, International Chair of Public Leadership at the National University of Public Service (Budapest, Hungary), will introduce audiences to the method. As he prepares to travel to Moscow for this year’s April Conference, Dr Kramer fondly recalled the story of how his collaboration with HSE began, shared a brief overview of what makes his method unique, and talked about his plans to set aside time to shop for rare first editions in Moscow’s bookstores.
— What led you to begin cooperating with HSE?
— Professor Alexey Barabashov attended a conference talk called ‘Leading change in complex times and hard places’ that I gave in Budapest in October 2015. His questions were so penetrating and precise that I thought to myself, ‘Here is an academic who knows far more about leading change than can be found in any textbook or journal article’. Afterwards, we enjoyed a four-hour long (!) coffee break at the Art Deco Gellert Hotel, which has a stunning view overlooking the Danube River. I found that he is as funny as he is brilliant. We could not stop laughing ... and we were drinking nothing stronger than orange juice. Alexey shattered all my stereotypes about Russians. So, I said to myself, ‘I have to go see Alexey in his native habitat.’ And, so... here I am.
— What kind of projects are you looking to develop between HSE and the National University of Public Service in Budapest? What kind of cooperation do you envision?
— I would like to partner with HSE on a joint, one-year certificate programme called ‘Leading Change in Complex Times and Hard Places’. Later, we might consider extending the certificate programme to a two-year Master's degree.
— You plan to introduce and demonstrate transformative action learning at your workshop. What is unique about this method?
— It involves no classrooms, no training, no lectures, no PowerPoint slides, and no tests. A small group of top managers comes together for about two hours and practices coaching each other to pick apart their own most wicked problems. They learn a lot about a problem, and, at the end of the session, commit to take action to address it, even if they don't fully understand it yet. In the process, their capacity for leading change in complex times and hard places is transformed. So transformative action learning involves (1) learning, (2) taking action, and (3) transforming oneself, with the support of peers, to become a much more effective leader.
— Where is this method currently being used around the world?
— I have introduced it in executive education and leader development programmes at universities like George Washington University and American University (both in Washington, DC), at the University of Potsdam in Germany, and in the US government, the European Commission and multinational companies such as Pfizer and Boeing. It works equally well in the private, non-profit and public sectors.
— What is the ideal audience to learn this method? Whom should we invite to your workshop?
— Top managers who feel swamped by their daily leadership challenges, and who feel that organizational life is making them swim in a state of ‘permanent white water’.
— Aside from the conference, how are you planning to spend your visit to Moscow this April?
— I collect antiquarian books, so I will be visiting all the bookshops in Moscow to find first editions of I. Konevskoi, N. Zabolotsky, V. Ivanov, Pushkin, Mayakovsky, Nabokov and Olesha. Also ... Russian avante garde art from the early 20th century.
Anna Chernyakhovskaya, specially for HSE News service
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