Jennifer Garvey Berger, Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World

June 2012 / Leadership Emerging

Jennifer Garvey Berger. Changing on the Job: Developing Leaders for a Complex World. Stanford, CA: Stanford Business Books, 2012.

It is unusual to find an integrally informed author showing up in a university press, aside from SUNY and their integral series. Berger lives in a small seaside village in New Zealand, but her background is far more cosmopolitan than that:

Formerly an associate professor at George Mason University in Virginia in the US, Jennifer learned about deep change in 2006 when she turned down the tenure offer and moved to New Zealand with her husband, two kids, and the family dog. Now she lives on the beach, raises hens in the back yard, and often looks forward to the writing she can do in a fourteen-hour plane ride. Jennifer loves that her life is a blend of watching the sun set over the Tasman Sea and having conversations in conference rooms around the world.

That plane ride is to reach her clients in the US. What could be a more on spot description of an integrally connected author?

In the face of our increased sophistical with technology and our growing capacity to include more of life and the world in our mental maps we have lost our sense of how our lives will progress in our lifetimes. Gone is the extended family for many of us; in its place is the question of where will we be and what will we be doing next year at this time. Garvey states,

‘This book is written for people who are interested in understanding the shape and features of adult growth so that they can either support their own growth and development or support the growth and development of others (or, most likely, both).” (2)

This is something that makes this book stand out in the barrage of books on change, development and leadership: Garvey attends to a theory of adult development, that of Robert Kegan, in addressing leading in a complex world. At the heart of her discussion is the phenomenon of sense making, our source of meaning in life. She lays this out neatly in a series of tables spread through the book. The focus is on orientation to authority and perspective taking, various strengths, blind spots and areas of growth for each stage of development. She compares key characteristics and coaching interventions for each.

In differentiating leaders from the rest of us, she indicates that,

  1. Leaders shape the future with vision
  2. “Leaders have to lead others toward particular outcomes,” (193); note that the author is stuck in the language trap of leadership: leaders lead!
  3. Accomplishing tasks individually and with others – (as she indicates) just like all the rest of us.

There is so much more juice in this small book. Suffice it to say here that it is highly recommended. Furthermore, its use of Kegan’s work is unique in books on leadership. It is a book that has a special place in a world of more integral understanding.