Starting next week I'll be serving as a teaching assistant in David Bradford's class on High Performance Leadership at Stanford's Graduate School of Business. (Power Up: Transforming Organizations Through Shared Leadership, which David co-wrote with Allan Cohen, will be the course's primary text.)
I didn't study with David while I was at Stanford, but I had a profound discussion with him several years ago when I was thinking about a PhD in Organizational Behavior and a career in academia. We talked about my goals and why I was interested in pursuing a PhD, and then David drew a list of activities on a whiteboard, including basic research, applied research, teaching and direct work with organizations, and he asked me to think about what percent of my time I wanted to spend on each activity and to write down a figure next to each item on the list. Then he showed me how my time would actually be allocated if I followed the path I was considering and wrote those figures next to mine on the whiteboard. The two sets of numbers didn't have much in common.
My passion is for working in a very hands-on way with individuals and organizations to initiate positive changes and negotiate them successfully. It's essential for me to know that I'm having a direct impact on the lives of the people I'm working with. David helped me to realize that I'd be more likely to fulfill those needs practicing "in the field" than in academia, and he probably saved me many years of frustration. I still consider from time to time whether a PhD would be of value in my current practice as a coach and consultant, but now it's with a much clearer sense of purpose.
I remain impressed by how skillfully David tackled the difficult job of helping me see that my vision was a mirage and that my plan would likely end in failure without quashing my hopes or my ambitions. It was an inspiring lesson in how to be compassionate while also being direct, and I'm looking forward to learning more from him over the next few months.