As we prepare a new leadership provision aligned with the Workplace of Tomorrow, I’ve been asked to locate the nature of our leadership work and our fire-lighting approach.
From our early days, we have always sought out clients working at their edge, change makers wanting to work with more confidence in an uncertain and ambiguous world. Our interest has always been in encouraging people’s potential through the power of relationship.
How have we moved from our roots developing practitioners to developing leaders?
Since the 1980s Oasis has been a radical hub for developing facilitators, human relations practitioners and coaches. Our original focus was on developing practitioners to be leaders in their own lives. Over time, the focus shifted to organisations and leading in the context of work.
We recognised that for most of us our social world is centred on the world of work. By extension, this is the arena where the call for change is most critical. We decided to focus on individuals and organisations in periods of significant transition. It’s in those exciting and demanding moments that people most recognise the need to become more intentional about the choices and actions necessary for a new phase.
Beginning with those operating in social change arenas, our approach to leader development has solidified as one that is deliberately ‘inside out’. Our focus is on the individual as change maker in a context of systems and relationships, and our approach is deliberately up close and personal.
Leadership development at Oasis has always been stimulated by questions:
- How do I make things happen around here?
- How do we practise collaborative leadership?
- What do we really require to be fit for the future?
- How do we develop leadership based on relationship?
Our Influencers and Influence
Over the last 30 years many top leadership and management experts have been inspired by and, in turn had significant impact on how we work with leaders to answer these questions, many through personal connection.
Gaie Houston recognised our leading approaches and contributed to our early mentoring insights and programmes. John Heron, a leading figure in the Human Potential movement, provided support, challenge and guidance. We are indebted to Mario van Boeschoten, co-developer of the U-process and a pioneer of Organisational Development in the UK, for his remarkable support and guidance, as well as influencing our leader and leadership frameworks. And time with Will Schultz, and more recently, Geoff Bellman, author of The Consultant’s Calling and Extraordinary Groups, has helped shape our approaches to groups.
Learning through Practice
So we have had no shortage of global thought leaders contributing to the design and delivery of our leader and leadership initiatives. However, it’s the inquiry-based research with thousands of practising leaders, from CEOs to new managers, that has deeply influenced our programmes and offerings.
By the late 90s it was recognised that traditional leaders needed to change and equip themselves with the very skills we were championing. In partnership with national organisations and across a range of sectors, we prototyped new forms of leader development that integrated the demands of emotional intelligence, collaborative inquiry and reflective practice.
We worked with radical individuals who were interested in the power of relationship rather than in status and hierarchy. We looked to work with organisations in transition, which were more in need of our challenging approach than organisations on an even keel.
Oasis pioneered programmes that blended coaching, experiential group work, applied projects and the self as the instrument of change, which today are imitated in many programmes.
Global Pioneers of Whole Person Learning
By 2005, leadership offerings at Oasis were known for both pacing and leading the wider world. We have kept ahead of the curve. Over the last ten years we have become known as global pioneers of Whole Person Learning approaches, a phrase that was given to our school of thought by the global companies and international business school partners in the Globally Responsible Leadership Initiative (GRLI). It’s a tangible way of developing the next generation of responsible leaders for the new millennium. It is remarkable how prevalent Whole Person has become in leadership development since our first source publication in 2007.
Our research into what is required for the workplace of tomorrow if people and planet really matter further emphasised the alignment across industries of what is being sought, including working with unpredictability, systems and networks, influencing across boundaries and a return to the importance of relationship in a digital age. The ability and capacity to work with others is truly key to making a difference. It is this enabling of the whole person, both as a leader in one’s own life, as well as bringing leaderful relationships into work, that is at the heart of what organisations are seeking.
Our Leader Development Programmes
We have developed thousands of managers and leaders through our flagship ‘relational know-how’ leadership programmes. We are also committed to designing programmes that reach the core development needs that change with shifts in organisational thinking and design. Sustaining a leading edge offering when we resist making anything we create into a standardised product, is of course a challenge, but one that we rise to. And thirty years on, we have not only survived but thrived in working with the tensions inherent in remaining a bespoke peer-based learning organisation that punches above its weight in the world, whilst ensuring we evolve with those we serve, and have time to research, inquire, reflect and create new practice for a different future.
I struggle with the term ‘programme’. It simply doesn’t capture the blended nature of peer learning, the level of applied practice in the working context, the inner voyage of change, the power of working with others, the willingness of the facilitators to go beyond traditional frameworks and to work with the real dynamics of a group of leaderful learners. It is a term that gives the impression that it ends. Yet we know it is a catalyst of a life-long process that is like sparking a fire deep inside each person who chooses to develop with us and each other.
In the absence of a different term, we welcome your ideas on how to describe the Real Leaders programme, which we are excited to give birth to in 2018 as our newest long-term leader development offering.
So, our work continues, and if any of this blog happens to resonate with you, and you want to explore the possibilities associated with how we shape and develop radical learning processes then we would be thrilled to hear from you. There is nothing quite like understanding and being inspired by something of another person’s story, especially when it’s recognised that individual and organisational relationships are a critical aspect of leadership for the future. Who knows, it might be the start of a warm glow.