The Role of the Body in Leading and Learning: A Case Study of a Somatic Leadership Development Program
By: Carmela Celeste Bennett
Published: 05/16/2012
Uploaded: 11/20/2017
Uploaded by: Pocket Masters
Pockets: 2012 (May) Teachers College Columbia University Ed.D. Dissertations, Gottesman Libraries Archive, Historical Dissertations
Tags: authentic leadership, leadership development, learning, mini-body, somatic learning, transformative leadership, whole person learning

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Description/Abstract: The purpose of this case study was to better understand the ways that learning through the body impacts leaders/participants' understanding of both leadership and leadership practice. Although the academic discourse on the need to incorporate whole person/multiple ways of knowing and learning into adult learning and leadership is increasing, the literature and research have yet to explore the ways somatic learning and pedagogy facilitates adult learning and leadership development.

A qualitative research approach was used to explore the perceptions and experiences of 15 leaders from a variety of industries. Purposeful sampling was used to select participants who had completed the Strozzi Institute's somatic leadership development program within one year of the study. A focus group of participants who had completed the same program two or more years prior to this study was conducted to triangulate the data and confirm the findings.

Literature from authentic and transformational leadership theory, whole person adult learning, and selected literature on somatic learning was utilized to create the conceptual framework. Heron's (1992) epistemological "theory of personhood" grounded in the assumption that bodily experiences are a valid source of knowledge was used as theoretical scaffolding.

The research reveals that leaders perceived that engaging in somatic learning processes and practices enhanced their understanding of the body as a source of knowledge largely through its capacity to increase self-awareness, significantly influence their ability to become better aligned with their individual leadership vision, and positively impact their leadership practice. More specifically, their communication skills, relationship-building capacity, and ability to manage emotions and conflict resolution were impacted. The researcher posits that these findings suggest somatic learning and pedagogy be considered as a fundamental, rather than adjunctive, the source of knowing and learning. Recommendations focus on increasing the quality and quantity of somatic learning practices within adult learning and leadership development contexts, particularly within those focused on whole-person self-development.