Why Am I Doing This?

In 1997 just before finishing my MA in Leadership at Royal Roads University, I was accepted into the Doctor of Business Administration at the University of Bradford Management Research Centre in Middle UK. It was the No. 3 business school in Europe at the time. It was crazy back then as I recall handing my final project report in for assessment the day that I was heading to the airport to fly to my first residence in the UK. I was referred to a very wise man who had been editor of the British Psychological Association journal by a man who I later found to be quite the shyster. But more about him in another post.

Although I have very fond memories every now and then, particularly of my friend Sheikh Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Khalifa who to this day remains a friend a world apart, I must say that the other times were quite pivotal in a negative sense, mostly in developing my now robust feeling of distaste for being subordinated to another human being without consent.

I remember one time where I was fortunate enough to be able to spend several weeks staying on an old country farm in a stone farmhouse in Oxenhope. It was amazing to walk through the dales to arrive at a pub from the 15th century, to see the very place where the Bronte sisters lived, and to browse through bookstores that proudly displayed some very first editions of some of the classic texts in my field.

One afternoon my supervisor – let’s say his name was “Erry-Jay’ for the sake of modest deception – and I decided to start the evening with a G&T after already having several pints earlier in the day. Erry-Jay cracked a nice bottle of Bordeaux he and a few of his pals had salvaged from the basement of an old building on campus before the provost sank his mitts into it. What a find – all 200 bottles. So, one bottle into dinner, and his spouse – let’s call her Shmedna – does a face plant into her tenderloin  (Which, by the way, was freshly cleaved at a local farmhouse at the height of the BSE fiasco. Apparently the cows were upset, but not quite mad). Erry-Jay simply said “she’ll be fine … try a sip with the fried onions.” This was the routine for nearly the whole time I stayed.

in my last week there, Erry-jay decided that it was time for me to learn my place in the world. It started one night as he asked me why I was doing my doctoral studies in the first place. I spoke from the heart and said that I was very interested in researching my topic and that I felt leaders had an obligation to be the best they could be in the service of their subordinates. He replied “nonsense – you are doing it for the Union Card.” I nearly lost it. What followed the next day was a marathon of attempts to test me in a rather odd way. Although Erry-Jay was hard pressed to recount an author who had published since the 1980s except for his doctoral students, he was quick to say that because I hadn’t read Robert Owen’s 1904 transcripts to parliament, or because I didn’t know that the original “Cheaper by the Dozen” was about Frank and Lillian Galbraith.” that I really hadn’t done much reading at all. Me not read? Yeah, like fish don’t swim.

The next day, because the winter was coming, Erry-Jay needed help planting daffodil bulbs for the spring. I thought – what the heck. it was the least I could do for dippy bird entertainment in the evenings. As I was elbow deep in dirt planting 80-100 bulbs, down the path he paces with an umbrella. The skies opened up and the dirt turned to pudding and my master stood over me. He took great satisfaction in this moment, I think. I remember him saying “you think you had it tough in the military? You’re a colonial to me, boy.”

Game over. I never set foot on the campus again.

What did I learn from this? Among many other things I did learn that I value guidance and mentorship and not autocracy. I value self-directed learning and not benign-neglect. I value hearing the voices of others and not simply my own. I enjoy asking and not always telling. I enjoy humanity and not deference to hierarchy. I value dignity and kindness and not humiliation and power-over. I learned that the type of education I was experiencing was born of earlier times when the post-industrial machine needed to be fed by elites who knew the “truth” about what was good for others. I value open mindedness and not narrow-mindedness.

It’s different for me today but in many ways, it is very, very much the same. By this I mean that I am deeply interested in finding ways to help leaders make better decisions. I want to find out whether or not they truly do things their way because they think it is best, or whether or not they consider the nature of the context within which the decision is made.

Union card? More like a receipt if you ask me. I want to be a better researcher and turn out better work. I want to be self-directed, interdependent with others but not defined by them. I want to contribute. I want to learn and I want to continue to indulge my creativity.

That’s why I am doing this.

Oh, and I hate advanced statistics. Yep – I definitely hate advanced statistics. Time to get back to my assignment.

Stay tuned, race fans.

Sir Philliam of Thinkalot


2 thoughts on “Why Am I Doing This?

  1. Barb says:

    “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” Brené Brown
    Thank you for sharing your story Phil. I remember my response of righteous indignation when I first heard it and reading it now leads me to several questions that might enhance my understanding. I wonder what your experience might have been if the male/female characters were switched? How do feminist and masculine perspectives impact decision making heuristics of senior health leaders? I thought of you when reading an article in today’s Vancouver Sun “Do female board members make different decisions than men?
    I am excited by the possibilities of your research and grateful that you have chosen to focus your wisdom on this worthy inquiry.

  2. clswest says:

    Hi, Barb. You know, At my Roads to Research presentation two weeks ago, Nancy G. asked the very same question. For this reason (in part) I have been creating a survey of sorts for a quantitative methods class and I have included gender as an explanatory variable in terms of preference. I’ll bet some element of more intuitive, emergent approaches may come about. I can hardly wait to dig into the survey. It will be done by the end of April. Happy to share it with you, Barb. I am looking to test one of the hypotheses inherent in the Cynefin framework for sense-making. Cheerio!

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