Leadership and management superpowers
Ms Helen McKelvie
Thinking systemically and understanding organisation dynamics
can be leadership and management superpowers.
NIODA students certainly think so, with a 100% satisfaction rate for the Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) course. They know first-hand that being an organisational leader or managing a team can be enormously satisfying but equally can be frustrating and confusing. Why do smart, sensible people behave irrationally? Why does competition seem to outweigh collaboration? Why is it so hard to shift a toxic work culture? If, as neuroscientists are telling us, 95% of our brain activity is unconscious (Young 2018), then perhaps it’s little wonder these are the sorts of confounding questions preoccupying leaders and managers. How well equipped are most of us to make sense of the paradoxes and irrationality that are regular features of work life? How able are we to just ‘get on with the job’ when we are not aware of so much of what is occurring?
How well-equipped are most of us to make sense of the paradoxes
and irrationality that are regular features of work life?
Business degrees typically cover disciplines such as finance, marketing, operations, strategy and leadership and are designed to equip graduates to take on managerial and leadership roles. Taking a rational, cognitive approach to analysis, problem-solving, and decision-making is valued alongside developing effective teamwork and communication skills. However, this approach on its own is not enough when people and workplace dilemmas don’t respond to logical formulas, when emotions are running high and the capacity for coming up with sound and strategic business solutions is overwhelmed.
Applying an organisation dynamics lens
This is when taking a systems perspective and applying an organisation dynamics lens will help. Having an approach to discerning what might be really going on can feel like having secret superpowers for finding a way through the maze of workplace complexities.
The discipline of ‘systems psychodynamics’ is at the core of the National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA)’s post-graduate degrees in Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics). Founded in 2010 for the purpose of providing high-quality education in systems psychodynamic approaches, NIODA builds on and continues the world-class programs first delivered at Swinburne University and then at RMIT University.
Study designed for work-experienced professionals
NIODA’s Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) is designed for experienced professionals who wish to develop their leadership and managerial capacities. In this world-renowned work-integrated program you learn to:
– analyse, understand and manage ‘below the surface’ group and organisational dynamics in organisations
– identify blockers to change due to structure, culture and technology
– work with the emotional labour of leading complex systems in fast-changing environments.
This part-time course supports the development of individual capacities to shape and take up work roles that are meaningful, values-based, and which serve the ultimate purpose of the organisation. It provides industry-relevant, post-graduate education grounded in rigorous conceptual development and work experience and provides opportunities for engagement with real-world learning in a social and global context.
Reflecting on study at NIODA with graduate, Laurette Chang-Leng
It is so rewarding to hear about how this is being applied by a NIODA graduate who has taken up the option of a continuing professional development subscription with NIODA. I find it such a privilege to think with Laurette about her work and carry on exploring how the concepts and skills learned in the NIODA course can be applied in the workplace.
“I’m more comfortable with the complexity, I embrace ‘not knowing’ and observe what is emergent.”
– NIODA MLM(OD) Graduate, Laurette Chang-Leng
We recently reflected on how Laurette now takes up her role managing large and complex transformation projects as compared to when she came to NIODA. “In some ways, not much has changed, except for one major thing: my attitude and the perspective I bring… large, big-budget projects still have the feeling of being impossible, but now I’m more comfortable with the complexity, I embrace ‘not knowing’ and observe what is emergent. I sit back and think when others are focused on charging ahead, even when the train is heading for derailment! I have the confidence to call it out, and I am listened to – especially because I know the value of a good metaphor!” (an early subject in the course puts a spotlight on the ways in which metaphors are used in management practice and how working with them opens up understanding and new possibilities.)
Laurette and I also talked about the benefit of knowing about her own, what we call, ‘valences’ (predispositions) or what she is bringing into work encounters and what gets triggered for her. “I’m much more in tune with what’s mine and what’s not” – what belongs to the organisational system and others within it. This echoes something I wrote a couple of years ago: The course supports you to locate and integrate learning about yourself, who you are, where you have come from and all the ‘selves’ you are bringing with you to work.
I see the fruits of this self-knowledge all the time in our supervision sessions. Laurette has a courage and a curiosity for reflecting on roles, and what is being avoided or defended against. It is so exciting to witness how she is building the capacity to take up bigger roles, for fostering healthier dynamics, and creating a more effective and resilient team and organisation.
Postgraduate study with 100% student satisfaction
Laurette is just one of the many students who have valued learning with NIODA. We are proud of the 100% overall student satisfaction rating we have gained in the Quality Indicators for Learning and Teaching (QILT). QILT is a suite of government-endorsed surveys for higher education that NIODA has participated in since 2021. Currently, all 41 Australian universities and around 90 non-university higher education providers take part in the surveys. Over the two years of our participation, our students reported higher levels of satisfaction than the QILT national averages on key indicators including: learner engagement (NIODA received 97% compared with the national average of 42%), teaching quality (97% compared with 78%) and student support (97% compared with 74%). As institutes of higher education go, NIODA is small, but punching above its weight with these teaching and learning outcomes.
Young, E. (2018). Lifting the Lid on the Unconscious, New Scientist, Viewed 20 June 2023, https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg23931880-400-lifting-the-lid-on-the-unconscious.
Leadership and management superpowers
Director of Leadership Development & Consulting, NIODA
Helen McKelvie is the Director of Leadership development & Consulting at NIODA, and is a teacher in and a graduate of the Master of Leadership and Management (Organisation Dynamics) program. She brings over 25 years of her own experience of working in organisations to her coaching and consulting services in leadership development and organisational change. Roles as internal consultant, policy and project manager, and lawyer in workplaces in both the public and private sectors have provided her with first-hand experience of the complexity and challenges in organisational life.
Helen is passionate about improving workplace dynamics to contribute to better organisational outcomes and to benefit the working lives of those who make up organisations. She works with leaders and teams helping them enquire into workplace dilemmas to uncover and work with system issues and hidden dynamics that may be inhibiting role clarity and collaborative work. Helen uses a systems psychodynamic approach to create reflective space for respectful communication and connection, opening up possibility for greater alignment with organisational, and team role and purpose.
The National Institute of Organisation Dynamics Australia (NIODA) offers internationally renowned post-graduate education and research in organisation dynamics, and decades of experience consulting with Australian organisations.
The study of organisation dynamics brings together socio-technical and psychoanalytic disciplines to explore the unconscious dynamics that exist in every group, team or organisation. Learning more about these theories, and reflecting on the experience of them, can support leaders and managers to unlock great potential in their organisations, tackling issues through a whole new light.
NIODA acknowledges the Kulin Nations, and respective Traditional Custodians of the lands we work on.
We pay our respects to Elders past and present, and recognise their enduring sovereignty which has, and continues to, care for Country.
NIODA welcomes the Uluru Statement from the Heart’s invitation to walk with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in a collective movement for a better future.