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DMin, Leadership and Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Practicing our way to Wisdom

Written by: on March 13, 2015

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10, NIV)

A few years back, I was tasked with being responsible for the implementation of a federal grant that required the use of a specific evidence based practice for youth alcohol and other drug treatment. The project was a national implementation project. In order to assure that all of the sites were implementing the practice according to fidelity, and that we would be able to compare our outcomes equitably across sites, each implementer also had to use a specific, research based assessment tool. This assessment was electronically based, and could take a young person two to three hours to complete. If you know much about teen-agers who struggle with addictions, a two to three hour electronic assessment is not practical. We had other outcome tools which we were required to use, also developed by researchers, were not as cumbersome, but equally challenging for youth.

The result of this project? We had great research. We had poor client experience with the actual assessment tools (the practice implementation worked just fine). The experience affirmed what so many practitioners had long believed: research is great, but tools developed by researchers were inappropriate for actual service delivery. There was a huge gap between the tasks of gaining knowledge and developing practice wisdom. The research team assigned to this project were well respected and effective in their goals, but they also seemed to communicate that the practitioners, the people who would actually be using their work, were incapable of offering meaningful, scholarly, input.

Caroline Ramsey attempts to address this gap in her articles, “Management learning: A scholarship of practice centred on learning?” [1] and “Provocative Theory and a Scholarship of Practice” [2]. Ramsey argues that the development of meaningful practice research comes from attending to the relationships and context that shape practice, as opposed to simply inserting an idea or theory into the practice context. She notes her own experience, and the experience of other researcher/learners, in working with a practice setting to implement change. In all instances, a change needed to occur, and there was an idea about how to accomplish this change, but the change did not occur as planned. Instead, each researcher/learner partnered with the practitioners to adapt a model or theory to be more effective in the workplace.

One of the concepts that Ramsey discusses is that of “mindfulness.” This caught my attention as it is an Eastern practice wisdom or philosophy that has become more prominent in the mental health and social services arena. Mindfulness draws the participant to be conscious of their overall state of being, and to attend to the thoughts, feelings and experiences of the moment. Reactive people tend not to be as mindful, while those who are able to slow themselves, and consider multiple factors, are able to act from a calmer place. Some might call this wisdom. “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, but he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.” (Proverbs 14:29, NASB)  Other versions refer to being patient, but the idea here is that when we slow ourselves down, and consider the context, the other person, we gain understanding (and limit foolishness). And if we apply that understanding, perhaps it will lead to wisdom.

The key here, for me, is what is the source of that calming? That peace? The Psalmist writes that it is the Lord. That when we center ourselves on Him, when we seek to live in His peace, we are better able to slow ourselves and listen first to Him, and then to the other. In practice, what this means for me, is recognizing that the practitioner or the student, has just as much to add to the development and implementation of theory to the field as the researcher. In fact, the practitioner may well have more to offer because they have the experience and understanding of the context. They can say right away whether something will or will not work in their context. And then they can help generate better ideas on how to apply knowledge.

I am a teacher. I develop programs. I have led large groups of practitioners. But I am a learner. My teams and my students are only successful because they are active participants in the learning and developing and implementing of ideas. I think that this is part of what Ramsey was trying to suggest: That when we engage in a collaborative process of learning, we create better and more useful outcomes. I would add that when we center ourselves on Christ, we are better able to step back and consider how the development of knowledge can lead to greater understanding of people and contexts, and ultimately wisdom.

 

[1] Caroline Ramsey, “Management Learning: A Scholarship of Practice Centred on Learning?” Management Learning, 45:1, 2014, pp 6-20.

[2] Caroline Ramsey, “Provocative Theory and a Scholarship of Practice,” Management Learning, 45:2, 2011, pp 469-483.

About the Author

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Julie Dodge

Julie loves coffee and warm summer days. She is an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Concordia University, Portland, a consultant for non-profit organizations, and a leader at The Trinity Project.

7 responses to “Practicing our way to Wisdom”

  1. mm Deve Persad says:

    I’m not sure whether the “Undercover Boss” show is still on TV, Julie. This post certainly reminds of it. Whole organizations changed once the decision makers took time to be “mindful” of the practitioner’s perspective. Unfortunately, as you describe those types of collaborative efforts, across hierarchal lines do not occur very often. Decision makers seem to be in too much of a hurry, or as you say “Reactive people tend not to be as mindful, while those who are able to slow themselves, and consider multiple factors, are able to act from a calmer place.” Thanks for bringing us back to Jesus as our centre for establishing a calm place from which to gain wisdom and move forward.

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Thank you Deve. And yes, I believe Undercover Boss is still on. You are so right, that when we step out of our typical roles and immerse ourselves in a different perspective, our understanding and actions change. Truly building collaborative relationships allows each member to contribute, and for the assigned manager not to dictate. It is a change for a lot of people, but to me it is also a relief. I don’t have to have all of the answers, but there is a depth of wisdom and experience when I work with the team. I find we generate better solutions when we work together.

  2. Julie…
    I so appreciate your insights and the consistent manner in which you take our reading, are mindful to it and have the ability and skill to bring fusion so that what we have read in a business/management leadership realm is relevant to both personal and ministry expression.

    You wrote, “That when we engage in a collaborative process of learning, we create better and more useful outcomes.” As I reflect on what you have written I wonder if we led with collaborative process or moved with intentionality toward such a process that we might create an environment where mindfulness becomes a place of authenticity and empowerment. The practicalities of that would mean creating adaptive structures. You’ve got me thinking …

    Thank you Julie for your good work and thought….

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      It’s funny, Carol. When you ask people to identify characteristics of strong leaders, they always say authenticity and genuineness. We KNOW that’s a good thing, but we struggle with it. I wonder,myself, if that feeds back into our own insecurities and sinful nature. If I am authentic, will my “followers” find out that I am human and don’t know everything? Will they question whether I should lead? And though in our heads we know that yes, we are human and imperfect, we still struggle integrating that into our self concepts, which I believes leads to greater confidence. if we can really accept and believe that human is ok. Good enough is ok. I also communicate trust to my team members when I engage them in the process. I communicate that they are of value, they are able to contribute. It just works.

  3. Michael Badriaki says:

    Julie yours is a thoughtful and personal post. I was eager to read you thoughts on Carol’s articles on management since I know from listening to your story that you have been in management positions. Yet because you are personable and relational, I was also interested in interacting with your thoughts on how management which seems to be mostly task orientated, can be an avenue for relationship.
    As usual, you did bring it home in your statement, “My teams and my students are only successful because they are active participants in the learning and developing and implementing of ideas.” What a refreshing thought!

    Thank you

    • mm Julie Dodge says:

      Michael – thank you.
      As a leader and manager, I have operated for many years from a strengths based perspective. This perspective works first from the strengths of each team member, building on the proven research that when people are able to work in their areas of strength, the have greater job satisfaction, greater productivity, and greater customer satisfaction. As a manager, my service division had the lowest turnover rates, and I always attributed that to the team that we built. It was not me that was successful, but we ALL were. As a manager, I can be intimidating to people. But I surround myself with people who are good at what they do so that our collective strength outweighs our collective weaknesses.

  4. mm Stefania Tarasut says:

    This is great Julie! I think that the moment we stop learning we stop being effective leaders… also, the minute we stop being humbled by our position and authority we stop being effective leaders.

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