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Recollections on Leadership Experiences

Only a science which is directly related to life, said the great philosopher William James, is really a science.  It might also be said that in a science which is directly related to life theory and practice become inseparable.  The science of life, precisely because it models itself directly on the movement of life, becomes a science of living. (Adler, 2011, p. 31)

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My early recollection of leadership and organizational structure opened the realization of the importance and integration of work as it is one of the three life tasks in the Style of Life Tree (Stein, 1997). This has led me to build organizations based on Adlerian principles. The purpose of this paper is to outline an organizational structure which encourages, dignity, respect, purpose, belonging and contribution.

Early Recollections

Recollection 1

Growing up in family owned gas stations I got to observe and experience my first organization.  From my memory the smell of gas and oil permeated both my home and work in the gas stations.  At an early age being the first born I was expected to work, I washed windows for tips when I was barely able to reach the edge of the window.  I walked around ran errands swept the oil absorbent sand at age 8 and above.  From my observations I not only saw employees at work lifting banging auto front ends and chassis, along the backdrop of nude woman on calendars and STP advertisements.  What I did observe from a management standpoint was my father working hand in hand with employees leading from within, sometimes challenging the strongest with pull ups from the garage doors, one of the guys, while my uncle worked the books in the back.  This small organization had many workers who were there for many years, sometimes invited over during an errand or towing a car for a scotch or two. Too many drinks though would lead to frustrations outbursts and flying tire irons.  Not the best motivational leadership techniques but effective and getting people moving.

Recollection 2

My second early leadership recollection came as a graduate out of College, working in a book warehouse, stacking and packing and putting together bargain book orders in shopping carts, then shrink wrapping and sending them down a manual conveyer to be put in boxes to be shipped to Kmart’s with formulas representing their region.  No steamy books or Daniel Steele books to the bible belt.  In the position owned by a family, loud and autocratic I got to apply my first theories of leadership when I became a production supervisor in 3 months. Taking the positive lessons from my father and uncle, participating leading from within, and providing organization and structure, I led the group through deadlines and orders and the sometimes-abusive demands of the owners. Stacking and packing to support the line workers, part of the team.  Learning as well that filtering outbursts and some of the distractions and divisiveness of the owners with focus on the team at hand and helping organize a way to get the orders filled as a team and celebrate accomplishments.


The above recollections were some of my first experiences in the organizational world.   Through these reflection I could identify the impact of organizations on people which allowed owners and bosses to control through fictitious goals and vertical striving and a leadership structure which moved between autocratic and permissive.  These organizations reflected the lifestyles of the owners based on  sense of inferiority or fear which lead to unpleasant emotions and its purposes (Adler, 2011, pp. 15-16).  The focus here is to look at the encouragement of personal goals creating social courage around the community (Paluso, 2012, pp. 41-56).  The ideal is to build security and striving to belong and contribute the best for the common good and social interest (Adler, 2011, pp. 16-17).

Organizational Values of an Encouraging Organization

The Challenge at hand is how to build an organization which builds on an organizational foundation and structure which reflects the democratic (authoritative structure), as opposed to autocratic or permissive structures. This would build on encouragement, support, and social interest.  In this case re-imagining what an encouraging organization can feel like (Dreikurs, 1964, pp. 5-9).

Building on my early experiences and my experiences over the last three decades the importance of participants in organizations heading in the same direction, is paramount to success.  What is not always looked at is the process or how we get there.  This is the Adlerian essence.

To begin a cultural redesign which is enhanced by Adlerian principles we should understand the goals and behavior of the organization and to identify fictitious goals, as they are driven by “organ inferiority”, compensating for the inferiority feeling, leading to “vertical striving”.   As we develop a healthy organization it should grow to support the three goals humans share in common: to belong, be safe, be significant (Reardon, 2001, pp. 28-29).  As we share these we create our own meanings hopefully a healthy and wholistic supported by the organization’s structure.  These meanings need to be clear and not misinterpreted.  It is similar to Dreikurs’ identification of  how parents view democratic relationships moving from autocratic ones; there is the confusion that it is freedom and anarchy.  What is sometimes missed is that freedom is based on responsibility (Dreikurs, 1964, pp. 8-9). This same notion can be applied to stages in organizational structure or culture change.  This topic is for future research, since the purpose of this paper is to outline an organizational structure with democratic relationships which encourages, dignity, respect, equality, purpose, belonging and contribution.

Dignity, Respect, and Equality

The organizational goal is to Move from a superior-inferior structure to equals, where roles, input and expertise are respected and valued.  An organizational model that encourages conversation between people and departments without having to go through hierarchy.  This again should not be confused with a permissive or laissez faire approach. (Dreikurs, 1964, pp. 8-11).  There is a clear structure and decision-making responsibility, which encourages courageous decisions, an environment which is safe to fail and grow (Dreikurs, 1964, pp. 36-56).

Purpose, Belonging, and Contribution

In each person from early childhood is the conception of a goal or purpose to overcome the present state or perceived deficiencies (Adler, 2011, pp. 34-35). The actions of the individual or in our case employee is influenced by their lifestyle and need to overcome inferiority through their reflection on early recollections.  By creating a structure which supports social interest and the feelings of belonging and contribution we can encourage that reflection.  This supports self-confidence and the feeling that the individual can overcome difficulties and in turn not have a disposition which is  resistant to change (Adler, 2011, p. 39).

Organizational Structure Chart

Micro View of Academic Responsibility Structure

Proposed Change in Academic Unit Structure

A shared leadership model is proposed, with the following collaborative roles:

      President:

  • Personnel, including faculty recruitment and evaluations
  • Faculty development
  • Changes to Faculty Handbook
  • Unresolved student issues

      Director of Quality Assurance and Academic Affairs (proposed title change from Director of Curriculum and Accreditation):

  • Learning outcomes, key performance indicators, artifacts to evaluate achievement of learning objectives
  • Curriculum/course sequencing
  • Program modifications, including syllabi reviews
  • Changes to Catalogue/Student Handbook
  • Student learning objectives

      Director of Assessment and Online Education:

  • Evaluation of student learning
  • Program evaluation
  • LiveText implementation
  • Quality assurance of online courses
  • Communication to Program Directors on Faculty and the Online course delivery timelines
  • Training of online faculty and approval of Faculty Readiness

It is proposed that academic leadership team work closely together, so decisions can be made by consensus and all are ready at any given time to facilitate decisions in all areas of academic functioning, if needed. Ultimately if needed the President with the leadership team would make decisions when there is no consensus.


In conclusion creating an Adlerian organizationis an evolutionary process which requires understanding by the individuals of the past organizations “style of life”.  The lesson being learned is this is not a shift in thinking which can change overnight but requires consistent reflection and correction.  In order for people to feel safe to make courageous decision and sometimes fail, but that is ok since we are not operating on a deficit model.  What should emerge are thicker lines of communication and changes in lifestyle which considers the whole person, being consistent with personal and intimate relationships.



  • Adler, A. (2011). The Science of Living. Mansfield Ctr, CT: Martino Publishing.
  • Ansbacher, H. L. (1956). Problems of Social Psychology. In H. L. Ansbacher, the Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (pp. 446-459). New York: Harper and Row.
  • Ansbacher, H. L. (1956). Social Interest. In H. L. Ansbacher, The Individual Psychology of Alfred Adler (pp. 126-162). New York: Harper and Row.
  • Dreikurs, R. (1964). Children the Challenge. New York: Hawthorn Books Inc.
  • Heston, T. K. (2011). The Child’s Inner Life and Sense of Community. In J. C. Maniacci, Alfred Adler Rivisited (pp. 115-128). New York: Routledge.
  • Paluso, P. R. (2012). On the Origin of the Striving for Superiority and Social Interest. In J. C. Maniacci, Afred Adler Revisisted (pp. 41-56). New York: Routledge.
  • Reardon, J. (2001). A Transforming Way, An Adlerian Approach to Human and Organizational Development. Pheonix Process Publishing.
  • Stein, H. (1997). The Style of Life Tree. Alfred Adler Institute of San Francisco, 1-3.

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