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Uniform Praise

A graduate of TC's leadership program for Army officers says the experience "changed the very lens through which I view the world"
By Patricia Lamiell

According to a centuries-old academic custom, occasionally still employed, students applaud and cheer—sometimes even rising to their feet and stomping on the floor in appreciation—following the conclusion of a final course lecture by a well-loved professor. In January, W. Warner Burke, Edward Lee Thorndike Professor of Psychology and Education, received the modern-day version of similarly enthusiastic praise in an e-mail from a former student.

Major K. Scott Morley, a 2011 graduate of TC’s Eisenhower Leader Development Program (ELDP) for U.S. Army captains and majors, e-mailed Burke, the program’s co-founder and director, thanking him for “one of the most professionally and personally rewarding experiences of” his life. “Frankly,” writes Morley, “it has changed the very lens through which I view the world.”

The letter drives home the main purpose of ELDP, which is to fundamentally change the way Army officers and cadets are trained and, ultimately, the way the Army—and the broader military—work. If the partnership between TC and the US military seems odd, consider that Burke and his colleagues at West Point created the program to introduce the radical idea of a nonhierarchical, cooperative learning and work style—practically TC’s stock-in-trade—to an institution well known for its top-down, stratified chain of command.

The 12-month Eisenhower program, now educating its seventh cohort, develops Army Tactical Officers (TACs) who emerge as the primary leader developers, mentors and advisers of each new crop of Army cadets at West Point. Eisenhower participants also earn a master’s degree in organizational psychology from Columbia University, graduating with a firm grounding in organizational theory, leadership development, and social and organizational psychology—a cross section of disciplines taught in TC’s Organization and Leadership Department, which Burke chairs. The program is jointly administered and taught by West Point and Teachers College faculty at both locations. It prepares participating officers, and the cadets whom they will lead at West Point, to be diplomatic as well as military ambassadors of the United States, since modern-day deployments are often as much about winning the hearts and minds of people in other cultures as they are about military training. U.S. troops in Afghanistan, for example, work on nonmilitary projects such as building roads, water pipelines and schools as well as train Afghan police and military personnel.

The Eisenhower Leadership Development Program (ELDP) was initiated by Lt. Col. Todd Henshaw, now retired from the Army, who in 2005 set out to overhaul a leadership development program for Captains and Majors in order to broaden officers' understanding of leadership, how young adults learn and change, both individually and organizationally, and of cross-cultural dynamics. Henshaw approached the Columbia Business School, which suggested that he contact Teachers College. There he found Professor Burke, Coordinator of Graduate Programs in Social-Organizational Psychology and himself a former Army field artillery lieutenant; and L. Lee Knefelkamp, Professor of Psychology and Education and an expert in intercultural communication. Henshaw and the two TC professors designed the master’s program for mid-career Army officers, many fresh from tours of duty in Afghanistan or Iraq. Most Eisenhower graduates stay at West Point for another two years to train and mentor incoming cadets, who, in turn, learn to incorporate the Eisenhower concepts into their work with young soldiers on the battlefront. Each of them becomes a new type of leader who is as focused on the psychological and cultural growth of soldiers as on fighting prowess.

Morley writes at length about how the program transformed him. A class in military history impressed on him “the importance of knowing your organizational roots,” while a course on understanding behavioral research “ruined” him for uncritically consuming news about research. “I cannot read a magazine or newspaper article on a research study's findings without hearing [Instructor] Frank Golom's voice in the back of my head, making fun of all the threats to internal and external validity.” He writes that Burke’s courses in leadership, leader development, and organization change will be reflected in Morley’s own “career (in and out of the military)” for the rest of his professional life.

Morley wrote from Fort Benning, Georgia, where he is continuing the Army’s Intermediate Level Education course and daily applying the concepts he learned in the Eisenhower program. “I now see every group meeting (any collection of people, really) as an application” of Lecturer Sarah Jean Brazaitis' group dynamics class and a Group Relations Conference which was part of the program, he writes, and “every process and system” he works with is a product of organizational culture concepts developed by former MIT Professor Edgar Schein, which Morley learned in Morton Ender's course. “Every counseling session,” he continues, is an opportunity to apply executive counseling and coaching skills learned in a course designed by TC’s Debra Noumair, Associate Professor of Psychology and Education, in which Eisenhower participants work as change consultants to outside organizations. And “given my line of work, every deployment (and every collective effort) will apply” the dynamic network theory of James Westaby, Associate Professor of Social-Organizational Psychology at TC.

The program even shapes his personal relationships. Morley writes that he and his wife “explicitly share our personal and collective goals (out loud) and use reward/reinforcement techniques for our daughter” (and plan to use them with a child on the way) which he learned in the organizational psychology course taught by Gina Buontempo, Lecturer in the Department of Social-Organizational Psychology and the Master’s Degree program Supervisor. The couple have “already made some life and parenting changes” based on Morley’s knowledge of child development, acquired in the cross-cultural leadership immersion project led by Knefelkamp, he writes.

In June, Morley will take command of a U.S. Army Special Forces company in 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, before deploying overseas in 2013. “Professionally, I am pretty excited, as I will be helping to establish the systems and culture in a brand new unit,” he writes.

As for Burke, few things are more gratifying for a professor than learning how a student has taken the concepts he has taught him, and fully integrated them into his work and life. “The reaction on my part was pure joy that he actually got it, that he really fully understood what it was that we were—and still are—trying to accomplish. It was a feeling of, ‘yes—right—that’s what we are trying to get across.’ It’s what keeps people like us going,” says Burke.

Published Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012