Monthly Archives: December 2018

Back to School After 40 Years

Followers of this blog may have noticed I have not posted any new essays since last August. And, this was after I had made a New Year’s resolution a year ago to post regularly–at least monthly. What happened?

In September, I returned to the classroom after 40 years to pursue a Master’s of Science in Organizational Leadership (MSOL) from Goodwin College in East Hartford, CT. I had always wanted to pursue a master’s degree, but circumstances got in the way. When I was hired as a Grants Officer at Goodwin College, I noticed that the college offered a master’s in organizational leadership. When I reviewed the curriculum, I discovered it aligned with the many years of experience and non-academic training I possessed in the subject matter.

My interest in leadership dates back to my involvement in the Greater Hartford Jaycees during the late ’80s and early ’90s. The Jaycees is a leadership training organization for individuals under the age of 40. I had served on the Greater Hartford Jaycees Board for five years, rising to the position of Chapter President. My experiences in the Greater Hartford Jaycees changed my career trajectory. I left the field of journalism after spending 15 years as a daily newspaper reporter and began a long career as an association management executive.

Leadership development is a must for any executive and I took advantage of every opportunity for training in the subject. In 2003 I earned a Certified Association Executive (CAE) credential from the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE). I have renewed my CAE credential every three years by attaining 40 continuing education credits in executive leadership-related training. All the while, I have dreamed of obtaining a master’s degree. The opportunity finally emerged last year. With the support of my boss and the MSOL Program Director, I enrolled in the program. I have now completed the first two courses. I am on track to reeceive my degree in June of 2020 (Goodwin has year-round semesters).

So, what’s it like to go back to school after 40 years? It’s exhilirating! I am using a part of my brain that has been dormant for a long time. I am leveraging many of the skills I have developed as a fiction writer, but in new ways. Academic and fiction writing are different in some ways and similar in other ways. In academic writing, we begin each paper with an introduction that serves as a roadmap for the paper. We present a thesis and then use a well-constructed argument based on facts and examples to prove the thesis. We end each paper with a conclusion that wraps up and summarizes the main points of the paper.

Academic papers are fact-based and use evidence to prove a point. In fiction writing, we make up stuff. We invent imperfect characters and place them in uncomfortable situations. We challenge them in ways that are sometimes cruel, like killing off their best friend or a family member. While fiction is rooted in make believe stories, these stories must be connected to reality. A novel set in the Civil War era, for example, must be historically accurate (unless it is historical fantasy) in describing the key battles, as well as the norms, customs, and fashions of that time.

Like academic writing, fiction writing has an organizational structure. Every story has a protagonist who has a goal, but faces weaknesses and challenges that prevent her from reaching the goal. Overcoming these challenges forces the main character to grow. The main character reaches his goal at the end of the story and emerges as a transformed person.

Organlizational leadership requires an understanding of people, group dynamics and cultural diversity. We are learning about emotional intelligence, conflict resolution, and employee motivation. These same concepts apply to fiction writing. The best characters in fiction must navigate a culturally diverse world, possess emotional intelligence, and, through overcoming challenges, exhibit conflict resolution skills. Motivation is a key elemeent in fiction as it is in leadership. Many leadership theories explore various ways for a leader to successfully motivate followers.

As a lifelong learner, I recommend the continuous pursuit of learning and self-development. The only downside is that it cuts into my fiction writing time, but it’s a fair tradeoff, given the sheer depth and breadth of what I am learning about leadership. And, the biggest benefit is what I am learning about myself, which will help me to develop my leadership skills.

What about you? Have you thought about pursuing a degree? Have you considered taking a course?

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