How I Got Started (Part Two)

Discovering and then committing to pursuing this new field of Leadership and Organizational Development, as I indicated in Part One, does not put food on the table. For the three years that I was doing my renovation construction business, I was gradually increasing my time and revenue in the newly found management development work. Finally I crossed the line and was able to make enough monthly income from the new work to leave my burgeoning renovation business behind. This was 1986 and my family and I could survive on $2500/month after tax. At the time of crossing the line I actually turned down a $100K renovation project from an architect who liked using me but would have taken up 100% of my time for a number of weeks. I had to make the inner-directed leap or there would always be an excuse to pull back into a comfort zone. I have not looked back since crossing the line.

While I picked up the tools of my trade from other thought leaders, various workshops, and working with other consultants, I was concerned about the lack of my professional credentials. My only real academic claim to fame was a 1972 BA in Zoology (yes…Zoology – another story for another time) from the University of Western Ontario. As I have mentioned in my Foreword, there were only very expensive and obscure alternative schools out there beginning to offer some programs on change management and organization development. I did hear about a progressive M Ed program called Developing the Human Resource (DHR) offered through OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) out of the University of Toronto. I met with the innovative director Bill Alexander and he and I hit it off famously. He was looking forward to welcoming me into his program, which also matched my enthusiasm for potentially attending. However my application, which was fortified with glowing reference letters from existing clients, hit a brick wall with the U of T registrar. Because my last year of undergraduate marks in 1972 at UWO was only a ‘C+’, it was requested that I redo my last year to get my marks up to a ‘B’.  This would have taken two more years part time – something I could ill afford to do with a family to feed and an eagerness to dive into my new field more fully. Screw this…the system was simply not ready for me. So I moved on. This is the last time I pursued so called “higher education” in the OD field.  Interestingly enough in the mid-90s I designed and taught a post-diploma OD program at Sheridan College for three semesters based solely on the consulting work I had been doing. Lesson here…who you are still trumps any degree you have.

In the late 80s, after crossing the line, I was applying my expertise and commercializing my living through adventure-based and activity-based learning management development programs, which were a very popular and sought after approach at the time. Most often this involved setting up and running high and low ropes course initiatives focused on team-building – group problem solving, collaboration, trust-building, and stretching personal limits in controlled risk situations. I, and my team, would work with groups from 30-200 at a time in a powerful one-day outdoor program. We always found it easy to unleash the energy and motivate the participants to change the culture of their organization once they returned. It was always disheartening to then hear a few weeks later that that leadership intents and dreams were distant memories as the structure, systems, and processes of the organization slowly wore them down. It was then that I realized that my work was doing these leaders a disservice. Working with just the individual leaders and getting them all jacked up was not enough! A good seed planted in bad soil is a waste. I needed to know much more about the organization – the soil – before I could really help leaders –the seeds – design and manage sustainable change for their organizations. Thus began my pursuit of a more complete mastery in leadership and organization development.  Lesson here is to never stop challenging and change your beliefs and assumptions if they aren’t working.  Remain curious.

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