Date of Completion


Document Type

Open Access Capstone

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

First Advisor

John R. Murray

Second Advisor

David Hagstrom

Third Advisor

Mark A. Schlesinger


This thesis is the current synthesis of a deep exploration of the foundations of collaborative, transformational learning within organizations. I begin with a basic assumption which informs all the thinking that unfolds throughout this thesis: the sustainability of our organizations, and quite possibly the survival of our species, is dependent not on the leadership and the development of a chosen few, but on our collective ability to deeply listen for and sense what most needs to happen within a given group of people and then to act on this. We live our lives with deeply entrenched, mostly tacit beliefs about deferring to "experts" and the need for strong, charismatic leaders. These tacit beliefs have largely disempowered and disconnected us from accessing our most fully creative, generative selves. The deepest reservoirs of learning are found in collaborative, "emergent" learning experiences. In essence, the question becomes: what can happen when groups of people gather together as teachers and learners to share their thinking, their imaginings, their hopes and fears? What new thinking can be born? And how might this impact our sense of leadership and collective action? There are many forms which emergent learning can take. Contemporary structures for emergent learning have many of their roots in the group sensitivity training movement of the 1960s and '70s. Present structures for emergent learning include: the dialogue process, Community Building, Open Space Technology and various hybrid forms of both verbal and non-verbal collaborative, co-creative processes. The essence of 'emergent" learning is an experiential immersion in many of the foundational skills of critical and creative thinking: systems thinking, metacognition, inquiry, empathic and reflective listening, and seeing from multiple perspectives. While emergent learning structures can have many purposes, I believe the greatest value of these learning experiences is developing the capacity for what I refer to as "generative" leadership. Generative leadership is about developing what I call advanced group sensitivities -- listening for what is wanting and needing to happen within the collective and then having the courage to act on this. It is about engendering a new quality of leadership within organizations -- unfolding, shared leadership as an alternative to traditional, hierarchical control, and authority.