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Understanding the process of military leaders’ development as professionals
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Paper presented at the 9th International Conference on Researching Work and Learning (RWL9), Singapore, 9-11 December 2015
Becoming a leader within his or her profession entails being professional, which is exemplified through one’s professional identity, knowledge, and practice acquired throughout his or her career. These learning take place both during formal professional development (specifically leadership development) programs or informal learning within the workplace. However, the process of becoming a professional leader through learning cannot be taken for granted. Within this process of becoming, how leaders develop and grow as professionals through "translating" informal or formal learning experience into "concrete" professional identity, knowledge and practice is not entirely understood.
Leadership is being seen as the panacea to increasingly challenging and ill-structured problems within many organizations and professions. However, the profound transformation that continues in every domain covering business, education, and the military, gives a feeling that there is this constant leadership gap. Among the many professions that are interested in developing their leaders to meet these challenges, the military profession is particularly concerned with how leaders develop if they did not take part in real-world military missions that strongly contributes to affirming their professional identity. Military professionals continue to face a "volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous (VUCA)" operating environment today and they need to be adaptive and agile in both thought and action. Within such an environment, understanding how military leaders develop as professionals has become more important in developing commitment and performing consistently.
However, literature reviewed suggests that no substantive theory of leadership development process has been validated comprehensively and empirically, as understanding of what gets developed in the process is not entirely clear. Most leadership development remain as individual leader development and rarely integrate with the level of leadership as a process. Using the identity lens in development efforts could bridge these two levels and shift the focus from self-development to other development and from a leader development focus to leadership development. Impacting leaders’ self-identity in the context of professional development will demand deep learning and for military organizations that see institutional training as professional development for their personnel, professional learning then becomes critical. There is a need to go beyond leadership skills and competencies to consider the ontological dimension of professional practice and of learning to be professional.
The paper will present findings from an examination of military leaders’ perceptions of professional development trajectories through three in-depth interviews. These military leaders have sufficient leadership development experience and had completed professional development programs that are designed to develop military leaders’ knowledge, competencies and dispositions toward their profession in preparation for higher appointments. Through a qualitative approach, this study aims to develop an initial theoretical understanding of military leaders’ development as professionals and derive the implications for designing military leadership development programs. These implications will contribute to the understanding of the changing nature of work for workplace learning and learning in continuing professional development.
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