What was the adaptive challenge? How was it identified? Or was it identified at all? “Adaptive challenges involve changing hearts and minds and often are championed by someone who cares, but who may not have the authority to impose change. These challenges cannot be “managed,” but must be confronted and dealt with honestly. ” 1 Within the context of this movie analysis, John Keating’s leadership capability will be discussed and critically analysed. The adaptive challenge faced by John Keating would be that of changing the hearts and mindsets of the students he taught at Welton Academy.
Welton Academy was a preparatory school based on four pillars of principle: Tradition, Honour, Discipline and Excellence. As a former student himself, Keating had experienced the Welton system of discipline and conformism, as well as the pressures of parental expectations. When he returned to Welton, this time as an English teacher, he observed that the school curriculum and teaching system had not changed, and retained the same confined mindsets that he had faced as a student.
He felt the need and urgency to make his students think for themselves. Therefore it can be said that it is through Keating’s personal experience, his observations and his knowledge of the school’s environment that the adaptive challenge was identified 4 CAPABILITIES Apply the 4 capabilities: sensemaking, relating, inventing and visioning. Did you see this happening? When, where, by whom? Or why not? SENSEMAKING (making sense of the world around us, coming to understand the context in which we are operating)
John Keating’s sensemaking would have occured during his time as an ex-student in Welton Academy and when he returned as a teacher, still subject to the same oppressive environment. INVENTING: (designing new ways of working together to realize the vision) Keating’s unconventional methods of teaching are a clear demonstration of his capability of inventing. While his radical teaching methods had raised eyebrows among his colleagues, he continued to use these methods to make his students open up and view things differently. RELATING (developing key relationships within and across organisations)
It comprises of three components: – Inquiry (to understand where someone is coming from), advocacy (intention to build understanding of other by balancing it with self-understanding and advocacy of one’s viewpoint) and connectivity (trying to build networks/coalitions/alliances with people to create change) When Neil Perry, a student of Keating came to him for advice over playing his part in the drama, Keating listened patiently and attentively, tried to understand Neil’s unique circumstances, and gave him relevant and prudent advice to follow what his heart felt.
VISIONING (creating a compelling picture of the future) It was Keating’s vision to enable his students to thinking freely, to challenge and inspire them to think for themselves on what they wanted to achieve in life. With his courageous ideas and manic charisma, Keating inspired extraordinary, almost cultish devotion among his students. This is demonstrated in the scene where he gathered his students around him and told them what he wanted them to be. Was it distributed? How do organisational substitutes allow for this?
Distributive leadership spreads decision-making authority throughout the school, creating a “flatter” governance structure. Unlike traditional, headmaster-dominated school leadership models, distributive leadership provides opportunities for everyone, including teachers, students and parents to participate in key decisions. 2 Keating’s capabilities of visioning. sensemaking, relating and inventing over his students indicates clearly that he has applied distributive leadership over his vision of instilling free thinking into their minds.
He treated them as his equals and there is no airs of superiority over them. The organisation substitutes comprised of the extra-cirricular activities component of the school system that allowed students to do any activity they preferred during their free-time. The students were free to choose from American football, rowing, etc. CONTEXT ; URGENCY What was the context, the culture like? Assess the urgency? The story was set in 1959, at Welton Academy, a well-respected preparatory school in the United States.
This was an institution that took great pride in its rich scholastic heritage, its high success rate for sending its graduates to Ivy League universities, and its four pedagogical pillars of Tradition, Honour, Discipline, and Excellence. At Welton, students experienced not just a rigorous academic learning program based on explicitly traditionalist ideals, but also an oppressive administration that practiced a zero-tolerance approach to non-conformism. A network of hard-driving parents, who expected their sons to take well-trodden professional career paths, further reinforced this ‘scholastic pressure cooker’.
The archaic all-male institution seemed to exist in stark contrast to the rest of America just beyond its sprawling compound, an America that was fast awakening to the wild and turbulent socio-economic climate of the 1960s – a period which also saw the dawn of the nuclear age; man walking on the moon; the rapid advancement of computer technology; and many other scientific breakthroughs being made. In view of the cultural context and environment then, the importance of the literary arts and culture was being dramatically downplayed in the face of the more utilitarian disciplines of science and mathematics.
John Keating saw the urgency to open the minds of his students, to introduce them to basic human concepts of beauty, romance and love, to ‘seize the day’, and to make their lives extraordinary. CHANGE MANAGEMENT How was the change managed: Ancona calls it catalysing action; Heifetz calls it mobilising adaptive work (formal authority) or modulating the provocation (informal authority) Changes were brought about by John Keating’s approach in teaching English. He went beyond teaching the language to expend the minds of his students to be free thinkers and to “seize the day”.
It was evident in the changes in behaviours of the various students under his charge. (MIT Sloan School of Management) Ancona’s 3C’s model of leadership includes catalyzing action, contingent on context, and change signature. Catalyzing action includes six steps: discovering the organization, developing relationships, building momentum, creating a vision, innovation & change and refining & learning. His involvement with the students after Charlie’s punishment and Neil’s desire to participate in the play demonstrated his appreciation of the change and his appeal in moderation.
However, while the changes were occurring, he was not fully aware and unable in effectively influence the outcome. Neil Perry’s change in his attitude towards pursuing his dream of acting and defying his father was a tragedy that could have been avoided if the change was better communicated. Neil was influenced by Keating’s teaching which encouraged him in taking up the leading role in the play. Keating advised Neil to seek Mr. Perry’s agreement but could not really appreciate the relationship between Neil and his father.
Change was also observed in Todd Anderson from that of a timid person to one who dared to stand up for his beliefs towards the end of the movie. Knox Overstreet remarked that he had been calm all his life and it was time to do something about it. He “seized the day” in summoning enough courage to call his dream girlfriend and was ‘rewarded’ with the invite to a party. However, by kissing his dream girl (seizing the day), he was beaten up by her boyfriend. Charlie Dalton, being the bold and daring among the group, summoned enough courage to put his thoughts into action.
He challenged the school system by way of publishing an article in the school paper in the name of the Dead Poets Society demanding that girls be admitted to Welton. Keating tried to moderate the change he sensed after Charlie was punished. He dismissed such acts as “stupid” and astutely pointed out that had Charlie been expelled, it would have meant that missing out on the opportunity to continue with his English lessons. While Keating had the formal authority (the English teacher) to lead his students (mobilizing adaptive work, Heifetz, 1994), his source of authority was more that of his popularity and bonding he had with them.
However, as he encouraged his students on the formation of the Dead Poets Society, he was more a leader without authority whereby the students are left on their own to find the meaning of life. While he sparked the discussion on the Dead Poets Society, he did not orchestrate it. Being the leader without authority, he tried to manage the distress by modulating the provocation (Heifetz, 1994). Examples of this action, include the session with the students after Charlie’s punishment and his interaction with Neil on his decision to join the play.
In essence, Keating tried to manage the change but he is more a facilitator of the change effect. CHANGE SIGNATURES What change signatures can you identify? Characterise them and assess them. Is any mention made of a particular transforming experience (leadership crucible – see Bennis)? Changes in the students caused by John Keating are evident throughout the movie. Keating’s approach and unique way of teaching and leading had a profound effect on the students. Keating’s change signature is his unconventional approach in his teaching which started from the very first interaction.
This change signature can be observed in the changes for Neil Perry, Todd Anderson, Knox Overstreet and Charlie Dalton as discussed below: Neil Perry He came from a traditional family with a strict father who planned out everything for him. His father’s wishes were for him to get into Harvard and to become a doctor. However, Neil’s true aspiration was to become an actor. He found inspiration in the leadership of Keating and was attracted by the Keating’s outlook and vision. Having been influenced by Keating’s teaching, and after reading Keating’s senior annual, he initiated the “Dead Poets Society”.
The profound change in Neil was demonstrated by his will to go for the audition which his father would not have allowed. He said, “for the first time in my whole life, I know what I want to do! I’m gonna do it whether my father wants me to or not! Carpe Diem! ” Todd Anderson He was the youngest child from a reputable family. His brother was a top student from Welton, hence the expectation of him was high. Todd was resigned to the life planned for him by his parents. The episode which Keating guided him to articulate his poems demonstrated the latent potential of this student and lead him to greater self-confidence.
The transforming experience at the last scene of the movie saw him defying the headmaster’s order to ignore Keating’s presence in the class. He led the few students to pay tribute to their teacher by standing on the desk and calling out to him “O Captain, My Captain”. Knox Overstreet He was the typical Welton student who conformed to the norms of the school. After a dinner with the Danburrys, he was captivated by their daughter, Chris. Being shy by nature, he was probably resigned to the fact that she was engaged.
He was unsure about joining the Dead Poets Society but after coaxing by Charlie with the promise of “swooning women” he participated. The encouragement of Keating’s teaching as well as of the other members of the Dead Poets Society provided the motivation for him to actively court Chris. The change in Knox was evident from the phone call to Chris, which originated from one of their meetings at the cave when he declared, “that’s just my problem, I’ve been calm all my life, I’m going to do something about it”. Thereafter, he persisted in courting her despite setbacks.