Episode #02

Making Courageous Choices: My Journey as a Change Leader

with Dr. Linda Ackerman Anderson

I invite you to join me for this special episode as I take you through my personal journey of discovery, risk-taking, empowerment and pioneering new territory.

I’ll share with you some of the pivotal turning points in my life and career, including the moments when I stepped out of my comfort zone and made bold moves that had a massive impact on my career and the organizations I worked with.

You’ll hear how my education and work experience made me curious about group dynamics and how this opened the door for me to delve into the world of organizational change. I will relate how I helped reveal and shape the field of organizational transformation as it emerged in the 1980s. This led me to my partnership with Dean Anderson and our mission to craft the work of Conscious Change Leadership.

So, join me as I candidly explore the life choices I made and gain insights into how they might help you in your own life and career as a change leader.

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Video of Episode


00:20:05 – 00:42:22

I’d like to share with you a bit about my journey from where I started in this work to how where I’ve come to now. And it’s interesting to reflect on your life. I don’t know if you’ve ever done this, but to reflect back on the various events, the various chapters, the various steps that we’ve gone through to be able to arrive where we’ve arrived.

00:43:05 – 01:17:00

And so doing this sharing with you today has prompted me to do that reflection. It’s been pretty interesting. So just by way of beginning, I will share with you that starting with education, my bachelor’s from Boston University is in art history and education, and my master’s from Columbia’s Teachers College is an interdisciplinary arts and education. It was at that time that I got introduced to group dynamics, which was my doorway in to organizations.

01:17:08 – 01:47:10

And so I started out looking at group dynamics, and that led me to become very curious about the whole work of how do you affect groups in organizations, teamwork. I got introduced to organization development in my first job, which was with the American Institute of Architects. I was assistant director of Continuing education. This is an interesting turning point in my life and my career.

01:47:17 – 02:18:00

A part of my responsibilities at AA was to review the success and power and influence of the continuing education and programs that we were offering to architects and engineers. And in one of them, marketing professional services, I was observing the teacher and realizing that at that point in time, architects and engineers were beginning to need to market themselves well as artists.

02:18:00 – 02:43:12

Most architects were not in the marketing business. It was threatening to them. And so I realized at that point that I pulled the teacher aside kind of early morning and said, I’m not sure you’re reaching this audience. They’re really going through a reaction to what you’re teaching. What you’re teaching is brilliant, but I’m not sure it’s connecting. And he looked at me and he said, Do you know how to reach them?

02:43:20 – 03:20:03

Can you actually help me make that bridge? I see it, but I don’t know how to deal with it. And I said, okay. I didn’t have any planning. It was shoot from the hip, but we taught the rest of the program together. What that led to was me being hired into his consulting firm. And so I became a consultant to architectural and engineering firms, mostly focused on the senior leaders and how they were operating as a team, because I was interested in that and how they were going through the up leveling of their organizations.

03:20:11 – 03:48:07

And so they called me at the time souls rolls and goals, and that’s what I was addressing in my work with architects. That led me to I left that position to actually take on more responsibility. Having been introduced to organization development during that time, and so I was hired into Sun Oil Company. Sun Company, Inc. headquarters as an odd consultant.

03:49:01 – 04:22:17

And that was also very revealing. I got a lot of development in doing that. And I took on a position at Sun Petroleum Products Company as director of Human Resource Development. Early in that assignment, I heard through the grapevine that the President was entertaining a major transformation of some petroleum products company, SPC, and had not created any kind of a plan for it and was going to impose a lot of things in essence what I had heard.

04:23:02 – 04:48:05

I went to my boss, who was the senior executive of h.R. In administration, and i said, is it possible for you to take me to the president? Come with me. I want to raise this issue in concerns that I have about his ability not to succeed at this major transformation, assuming that’s actually going to happen. So my boss was a little concerned, but he said okay.

04:48:09 – 05:22:18

And he set up a half an hour conversation with the president. I had some critical questions in my mind. And so that half hour meeting turned into a two hour conversation with the president about his approach to the transformation. And again, I didn’t have education in this. I was really just starting to think through complex organizational change. We had a lot of guidance on basic organizational change in the profession at the time, but not complex systems.

05:23:04 – 05:48:18

And that two hour meeting led to a two year special assignment for me to work with another senior executive to run that massive transformation for some petroleum products company. And it was a lot of shoot from the hip, a lot of figuring it out as we go. And it turned out to be extremely successful because of the success of that effort.

05:48:19 – 06:14:21

I left some petroleum products company to start out on my own. My commitment was to teach what I had done. But first I had to figure out what have I done? And so it was a rather, I would say, excruciating process to reflect back on two years of work and what I actually had asked of the organization of the leaders of the project teams.

06:15:05 – 06:41:15

What had gone on that I could actually repeat and codify so that I had an approach that I could teach others I wanted. I was committed to teaching others. And so it was the first documentation of the change leaders roadmap. I didn’t call it that. Then I called it a transition process. But it was the first time I documented the nine phase model and wrote about it.

06:41:16 – 07:18:22

That was in the very early eighties. So I started my practice teaching the Change leaders roadmap, and it was extremely powerful for me at professional conferences and then ultimately with other client systems who were starting odd chapters inside their organizations. I would organizations themselves, and so that I could teach the class to support them around that time. I went to a regional organization development conference, and a number of our colleagues and friends began talking.

07:19:06 – 07:47:06

We began talking with each other about something is going on in large systems change. Something is different. Our old models, our standard models are not adequate to what’s actually happening. So we got together and talked about the dynamics of what we were seeing go on in our client systems. And it was the first time we collectively named Organization Transformation.

07:48:07 – 08:17:01

There were four or five of us that were together, and we were excited about this. And what is organization transformation? What is OTTI OTTI and how does it contrast with organization development? ODI? And so I left that at that meeting, that gathering, and wrote about the three types of change development transition and transformation to be able to really define what is transformation.

08:17:21 – 08:50:08

From there, one of the members of that group who we collectively birthed OTTI together, we sent out an invitation only to a gathering to explore what is our organization transformation. And we sent out to about 50 people that we knew would be interested in having something to say about shaping a new field of organization transformation. Well, 250 people showed up at our conference.

08:50:16 – 09:26:08

It was clearly a topic whose time had come. And so it was a very dynamic event, led to a series of international symposium on organization transformation. I led the second meeting of that group, again, a very large group, and it was at that second symposium that I met Dean, my partner, both in business and in life. Dean has was a world class swimmer and his whole orientation was high performance, optimal performance.

09:26:08 – 10:02:15

He ran the Optimal Performance institute. And so he brought to the party what is happening for conscious evolution of individuals to be able to produce high performance. The whole personal side of change. Well, the Change leaders roadmap model that I had crafted was focused on the organization, not so much on people and culture. And when I realized the power of Dean’s work as the other side of the coin, it became obvious to us that our work needed to merge.

10:02:23 – 10:45:20

And and so our lives merged. And together we spent over 40 years developing a system of transformation with integrated organizational and people and culture work. And the crafting conscious change leadership. I will share with you one critical event in our lives that occurred that helped the integration of this work. And that was in the early eighties. We lived in California, and it was at the time that the Oakland firestorm, a huge fire took place in the Oakland Hills, the Berkeley Hills above San Francisco.

10:46:07 – 11:24:06

And our home and office was burned to the ground, along with 3500 other homes. Major event losing everything. We, aside from Dean taking the hard drive to the computer, to the business computer, we basically lost just about everything. I took my daughter and a handful of diapers, but that was about it. So what that prompted for us was to actually do a detailed integration of the organizational work and our personal work rather than our work working in parallel to really put it all together.

11:24:12 – 12:01:09

And that formed a lot of the basis of our system of transformation and helped launch Conscious Change leadership. We actually wrote two books, Beyond Change Management How to Achieve Breakthrough Results through Conscious Change Leadership and the Change Leaders Roadmap, the integrated version of it, How to navigate your organization Transformation. Those books are still around. They’re classics. They’re in second editions and highly influential in terms of pushing the edge of the change field.

12:02:08 – 12:33:15

So around 2012, I got a call from the Associate Dean of Brandman University, which at the time was a part of Chapman University in California. Brandman is now owned by UMass Global and the associate dean said to me, We are launching for the very first time a doctoral program in transformational leadership. And the backbone of our curriculum is your work.

12:34:01 – 12:57:23

We would like you to come and teach in our doctoral program to help kick off the inaugural session, which I was very honored. I went and I did, in fact, teach that year. And every year since, Dean and I have gone to help with the launching of every year new cohort at UMass Global in their transformational leadership program.

12:58:11 – 13:25:10

Well, a few years after we started to teach there, it was very clear it’s a doctoral program, so all the students are pursuing their doctorates, and all of the faculty, of course, are all doctorates. Well, Dean, neither Dean nor I had actually achieved a doctoral level in our education in that. And so the it became clear to the associate dean, we’ll take care of this.

13:25:18 – 13:53:16

And so with great honor, we were given honorary doctors of education, both of us, because their work continues to be based upon our life’s work. And so that led me ultimately to be Dr. Change. So here I am as Dr. Change based upon that honor, which was also a very significant life event for me. So what do I do when I’m not working?

13:53:18 – 14:24:05

And Dean and I have an extremely full life. We live in Durango, Colorado, and and a beautiful ranch actually, between two ranches. And they’re very blessed to be here with the wilds of nature and definitely connected to our life’s work. So for me, my most favorite hobbies, cooking, I’m definitely a foodie and we’re going to Italy here shortly and definitely going to eat well and learn how to cook Italian.

14:24:05 – 14:51:09

So that’s fun. So I definitely love cooking. I also have a whole career in my art work and so I create masks while hanging out with feathers and antlers and found objects and sticks and all kinds of things. And so my artwork is very important to me. Those of you who want a peek at it go to Faces of Nature.

14:51:09 – 15:14:13

Dot Art is my website. I’m excited about that. So that’s something I do to balance out left brain thinking with the right brain thinking in my life. The other thing that we do a lot of is gardening. Ian and I have a 32 foot growing dome, a geodesic dome. That’s a greenhouse that we keep going all year long.

15:14:13 – 15:49:08

So we’re eating well. We’re growing our our own food organically and truly enjoying that. In addition to those, how these we have a very beautiful daughter who is 33 and is a an exceptional individual in the LGBTQ space. And we have a wonderful dog and two horses and two cats. So lots going on in our lives and we love and fully enjoy every minute of it.

15:49:15 – 16:16:23

Dean and I continue to work. We continue to teach. We through the COVID experience, have had the opportunity to put a good deal of our work online. So we’re now easily teaching people around the world about conscious change leadership. We have some clear goals now because we’re Dean is about to be 70. I’m in my early seventies and so we’re focusing our work in two ways.

16:17:00 – 16:43:15

One is social justice. We’re doing a lot of work with the transformation of policing in North America, both Canada and the United States. Very powerful, very meaningful work, very necessary work. And the other is teaching others to carry this work forward, teaching the work of conscious change leadership, the change leaders roadmap. So we’re coaching where mentoring we’re supporting and we’re certified.

16:43:15 – 17:52:08

And other folks hopefully like you who want to bring this work forward in your own careers, in your own lives, and help carry it on beyond Dean and myself. So we’re committed to handing the work off. It’s been an extraordinary journey of getting us from where we have been to where we are now. And I appreciate your the opportunity to share my path with you and hope that it influences your path in this direction.


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