Saturday, August 19, 2006

Reflections: Going to Grad. School -- Part II

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Note: Originally posted on the EAGLE online community site, behind IBM's firewall on 19 August 2006, at 12:38 pm, and posted here on 24 May 2007:

Dear God,

Please let me thrive at Teachers College. Let me strive for excellence without being self-defeatingly competitive. Let me collaborate and become part of the community, and not try to be a star out of insecurity, or for any reason.

Let me be humble, open, creative and disciplined. Thank you for helping me reach this occasion. Amen.


Yesterday, I wrote out the prayer above, and then, getting way ahead of myself on the one hand, or doing advance-planning on the other, I spent an afternoon of my vacation, playing with ERIC ( and Columbia University Electronic Dissertations ( I wanted to start thinking about what it could be like to create a dissertation, to do a huge piece of original research. Of course, I have to earn the M.A. first, which will take at least two and a half years, since I'll be working full-time while studying part-time. Still, it was fun to do a bit of dreaming and free-associating.

The following essay, which I submitted with my M.A. application, provides context for a number of searched items in the list below:

Sarah Siegel’s Personal Essay for the Teachers College Application

Why would I wish to pursue Adult Learning and Leadership as a formal Masters, and ultimately Doctorate, when already, I have done my best to live the name of the program during much of my career? I want to go beyond my good hunches.
I want to understand the building-blocks of how adults learn and how they lead organizations effectively. Most of all, I care about inspiring leaders to be brave and authentic, and I am in need of further inspiration myself now. The Adult Learning and Leadership program, I feel, would add significantly to the inspiration I’m seeking, and I believe, too, that I would be a useful member of the Teachers College student community.

At IBM, I have had several careers, the majority of which have required some fundamental self-reinvention. How have I made the transition from each one of the careers to the next? Practically, it feels like tacit knowledge and I want it to be explicit. What if my experience were broadly, consciously replicable? An academic framework would help me see the possibilities. I feel ready to go beyond on-the-job learning – valuable as it has been, and as well as it has served me so far.

How can I share lessons learned about brave and authentic leadership in a way that inspires other leaders? It is not enough simply to tell my story, that I helped start up the first sales team of its kind in the Fortune 500 – dedicated to serving business-to-business gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) and GLBT-friendly clients worldwide; and that the team is now more than twice its size, and so has not only lived on beyond me, it is thriving; and that it is facilitating a culture-change, encouraging an unprecedented openness and authenticity in the business world. My hypothesis is that the openness is leading to more courageous leadership, and to more leaders reaching their potential. Perhaps it would be worth researching and trying to prove my hypothesis.

Another big research topic for me could be how leaders among varying cultures learn, and become brave, along with what it means to be authentic from their particular cultural perspective. In my current role, I have facilitated (instructed) leadership development programs in Asia, Europe and the United States, and would like academic, industrial-strength help in determining the value of the insights gained during my travels.

For example, while facilitating a program in China, there was no budget for break-time snacks, but rather for books; every day, the class voted on the most active participant, who won a book on Leadership for his or her contributions. In other geographies, there was a budget for snacks, but not yet for books! Some kvetch about jobs going to Asia, but whose hunger is greater for education than for snacks?

Or what about leaders in India, who in my experience of training them, due to explosive growth, necessarily are called to leadership earlier in their careers than leaders in most other countries? What bravery is involved there? And how can they learn quickly what most of us around the world learn over time?

Earning the Adult Learning and Leadership Masters degree would validate or re-shape my instincts, and would inform my judgment, increasing my ability to inspire leaders to lead bravely and authentically. In my current and future roles, it would also let me consider more than simply delivery of leadership development programs; I would be able to understand their backstory and finale, that is, I would be able to explore program design as well as senior leadership of organizations. The M.A., and ideally, the Ed.D. ultimately would help me be of greatest service in the adult learning and leadership arena.

* * *

Columbia dissertations that include these keywords or keyword-phrases and amount of dissertations that correspond:

Diversity in the workplace 14
Corporate culture 78
Minority executives 13
Globalization 82
Adult education 294
Experiential learning 21
Storytelling 14
Transfer of training 52
Management 607
Decision making 309
Bravery 0
Courage 23
Change 975
Leadership Development 181
Leadership 350
Lesbian 14
Homosexual 17
Jew 15
Jewish 109
Authenticity 36
Identity 541
IBM 36
Global business 184
Learning 844

It feels like the revelation I had with "e-business" all over again. In the late-90s, I remember thinking, so many IBMers are thinking about how to get to the next level of e-business adoption, trying to think of the next great e-business innovation. So much imagination is being channeled in that direction. Why channel mine likewise when, instead, I could channel it in a direction that far fewer IBMers are taking: how to reach the business-to-business market of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) business decisionmakers, i.e., current and future clients....I'm likelier to make a more visible contribution to the company doing so than continuing to focus on e-business like so many others are doing.

Notice the number of Columbia dissertations, for example, that have been written on the topic of, say, "Management" and then compare it to the number that have been written on, say, "Courage" or even "Globalization" relatively. It's interesting to write all of this at this embryonic phase of my grad. school education. Let's see how my thinking and learning changes over time.

Meanwhile, among the specific dissertations that looked particularly interesting yesterday, I found the following sample:

The journey of becoming a diversity practitioner: The connection between experience, learning, and competence

Faculty Advisor: Victoria Marsick
Date: 2001

The impact of gay identity and perceived milieu toward gay employees on job involvement and organizational commitment of gay men
Richard Randall Rogers, Columbia University

Faculty Advisor: Peter C. Cairo
Date: 1998

And during a previous session of web-trawling, I found the following organization to join: If it turns out to be rewarding, I'll write about it in a future journal entry.

Note added on May 25, 2007: I did join QueerTC and was fortunate to serve on a panel for the organization this spring.

Before, during and after school begins on September 1st, I ought to check out a site that was recommended as a link from Teachers College's web site:

Reflections: Going to Grad. School -- Part I

The postings on this site are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Note: Originally posted on the EAGLE online community site, behind IBM's firewall on 19 August 2006, at 12:37 pm, and posted here on 24 May 2007:

Returning to the Ladies Locker-room at the YMHA (Jewish Community Center) after swimming this morning, I am unable to use my favorite shower because the woman who had been sharing my lane has taken it...even though my towel and shampoo is hanging on the hook right outside it. My routine is disrupted. Now what?

She hears me move my stuff and says, "Oh, sorry."

"It's fine," but the alternate shower I choose has no soap, and really, it isn't fine. It's my shower. Every morning that I swim. At least when I'm not on vacation and arrive there super-early.

Noticing her shampoo-bag is a plastic shopping bag with "Graphos" written on it in Hebrew, I call from my shower to hers: "Did you live in Israel for a time? I noticed your bag."

"Yes. I just got back from a year there."

"How great." I step over to the next empty shower-stall to pump a handful of liquid-soap, saying, "I lived there for a year, too, a long time ago, in Jerusalem." The shower-water's louder than I'd like, but I talk over it, "What took you to Israel for a year?"

"Oh, I was in a seminary."

"Neat." So she's a rabbinical student maybe.

"Where were you when you were there?" she asks me.

"I was at Hebrew University during my junior year of college, and we used to have to take a cross-town bus every morning to the Givat Ram campus to swim. And now, there's this gorgeous pool, an infinity-style one, where the water spills over the edges on purpose, but not when I was there. Right on the Mount Scopus campus. Where did you swim while you were there?"

No answer. Oh, she left to dry off. For how long have I been speaking to myself, I wonder.

"Sorry, I didn't hear you," she says, apparently returning to hear my question and then answers:

"There was a pool in a building called the Soldiers' House. And I went there. There were soldiers everywhere on the main floors, and I went to the bottom of the building, where the pool was. It was nice, actually."

Typically, during vacation, my partner Pat would be with me and I'd talk with her in the locker-room, but she's volunteering at the soup kitchen today and so I'm alone. Or when I'm working, I get there earlier than Pat and my routine is simply to rinse off in the shower quickly, and then swim my laps and shower afterwards, all-the-while speaking with no one -- and there are far fewer people to choose from at the earlier hour in any case -- but the Graphos bag causes me to reminisce. She happened to have picked a locker near mine and so we continue the conversation.

"Are you working toward ordination?"

She looks at me oddly.

"I thought that since you were at a seminary, maybe you were a rabbinical student. Which seminary?"

"It's called Midreshet Rachel [], and no, I was just there to learn how to live according to the Torah [Jewish Bible]. I studied Hebrew and read in the original, which was just so great. Do you read Hebrew?"

Oy. I wonder what she'd think of my rejection of traditionally-observant Judaism, and how friendly she'd feel if I told her that after substantial Jewish education until high school, I opted to live a non-Orthodox life ultimately. "I do read Hebrew; I went to a [Modern Orthodox] day-school, growing up, and it is really rewarding to be able to read the text in the original, I agree."

I could finish getting ready and just leave, or I could introduce myself and maybe make a new friend. "I'm Sarah. What's your name?"

She tells me and I say, "Typically, I'm not here this late, but I'm on vacation this week."

"From what are you on vacation? What do you do?"

"I train our managers to be good leaders. I'm an instructor. I work for IBM, doing Leadership Development training."

"I love leadership development stuff. I worked for [a major U.S. airline] for five years, and I was a sales exec., and was always talking with HR on how to motivate the sales force further. But now, after 15 months away from it, and being back to work again -- this is my first week back -- it's just so hard....I did the year of study just for personal meaning. I mean, I didn't want to be one of those people, who says, 'I wish I had done XYZ....'"

"That's terrific. I'm going back to school part-time myself in a couple of weeks, for an M.A. in this field, actually: Adult Learning and Leadership." I see that her bag's packed. "Are you leaving now?"


"Me, too. I don't have to worry about drying my hair, since I'm on vacation."

"My mother tries to make her hair look like that. It's cute."

We're walking down the hall, which is decorated with children's art from the summer camp associated with the Y and I'm thinking about their stage of schooling and then fast-forwarding to my first experience with Higher Education, and it's as if she reads my mind:

"You are going to enjoy this education so much. When we went to college, we didn't really know where it was leading, but now, you've been in the field and you'll see that you'll be able to focus and learn so much better."

"You're right. When I went to college, I didn't know what it was going to be in service to [-- my Comparative Literature / Humanities degree] -- had no idea, and this feels so much clearer."

We approach the exit and reflexively, I follow the ritual of putting my hand on the mezuzah [the small rectangular casing on all the doorposts of Jewish homes or institutions (with the exception of bathrooms), which contains the "Shema,"the central prayer of Judaism, and which is meant to protect the inhabitants from harm] and then kissing my fingers as I pass through the doorway. She misses carrying out the ritual herself. I must have distracted her. As we wave goodbye to each other, walking to our cars, I smile to myself, considering how my early Jewish education really does seem to have stayed with me after all; I was first taught to kiss the mezuzah when I was six years old, if not earlier.

On the way home, I call my mom on my cell-phone and we talk about how school is around the corner, and about the swimmer I met.

"She sounds terrific; she said everything you needed to hear at this stage." It's true. My sister Kathy, whom I've mentioned before in communiques to my Leader Readiness facilitator community, is a professional educator (principal of Brooklyn International High School, with a Masters in Education and another in Applied Linguistics, and she says the same thing to me, or Master Trainers Lynne Cummins and Jim Soltis offer similar encouragement, fortunately, and yet hearing it from a stranger/angel(?) seems to help me the most.