Kristine Leadbetter sits down with Teal McAteer, a 22 year veteran professor at the DeGroote School of Business. Discover Teal’s unique blend of traditional academic background combined with solid industry practitioner experience and the journey that she brings to the classroom that her students don’t forget.
What is the most interesting place/event/moment that your research/career has led you to?
Talking with Teal, it’s very difficult to choose just one notable moment to share. However there is one overall theme that keeps appearing, the “transformative learning process”. Over the years Teal has worked with many fallen executives and coached them through their low points to be able to successfully come through to the other side of change. Repeatedly, Teal would find that they would need to be in a state of despair in order to truly hear and carefully consider the choices that lay in front and follow through on their journey of change. Each executive said the most learning occurred in this negative state. Through an awful situation (think: being fired) people were given an opportunity to analyze their current state and reevaluate the direction they were headed. This is called a transformative learning experience. The realization of how powerful these experiences are was one of the most rewarding things that Teal has witnessed.
It was watching these executives go through this process that it became so obvious to Teal that she must recreate this experience in her classroom by staging simulated disorienting dilemmas to allow her students to also undertake a similar journey. These experiences not only have impact during the low points and the moments of struggle, but they also have long lasting results, as in the lesson learned are still relevant many years later.
Counselling fallen executives has made Teal realize that we don’t learn when we are heading upwards or when things are going great. We learn when we are fallen, when we are being “hit.” We become reactive instead of proactive, riding the waves instead of catching them. (See Teal’s article on voluntary change.) Teal has carried this concept into the classroom. It has stuck in the minds of all her students and appeared in several exciting research papers.
Why academia? What led you to teach?
“I remember sitting in my undergrad classroom at Queens where I was taught by an amazing professor of organizational behaviour who spoke to us about ‘real world’ situations and how to deal with them. How to hire, fire, communicate with people, resolve conflict, manage stress, power politics, all the topics that every industry deals with, the leadership skills that not every graduate learns. I remember sitting there thinking, oh my gosh! This prof is teaching us the most important stuff there is in business!”
It was during this time that Teal recognized that she wanted to teach. However she also wanted to get real experience in the workforce to make her teaching material come alive. In between earning her Master of Industrial Relations and working on her PhD in Organization Behaviour at the University of Toronto, she took positions in HR which focused on management issues. She learned more about managing careers, stress, time, conflict, relationships and change. It was through these experiences that Teal clarified her commitment to becoming a professor who would also be involved in industry projects. This would allow her to provide real world perspective while giving students an opportunity to contribute their own viewpoint.
To date, Teal maintains her own leadership coaching practice. Her primary emphasis continues to be helping individuals, teams, and organizations:
- articulate their goals for change in their personal and professional lives
- establish specific action steps with time lines
- anticipate barriers to change
- initiate measures to ensure accountability for actions
- embed progress measures
What is the first thing your students learn about you that isn’t in your academic bio?
“I always share my interests with my students. I’m a horse back rider, a mother of 4 children (who help me maintain a sense of reality), and I maintain my own coaching practice outside of my teaching and research commitments. I share this with them to show them I understand what it’s like to try to find balance between your course load, job, and personal life. I want them to succeed in and out of the classroom.”
Whenever Teal teaches students she also offers them career coaching (free of charge!). “In a way [career coaching] is a good method to get to know my students outside of the classroom. Classes can be large – especially in a lecture hall! By working with my students on their career planning, it allows me to get closer to who they are as individuals.”
What excites you about your current research interests?
Teal is currently taking a good look at the differences between voluntary change and involuntary change. Involuntary change is when something happens to you, and you are forced to go through this experience and make changes as well as adapt (think: you’re fired or dumped). Voluntary change is when you actively choose to make changes in your own life, in other words, you’re inflicting pain upon yourself, but you know it’s good for you.
“I often ask my students which type of change they feel is hardest. At first they have to think about it – but they get it. Voluntary change is the harder of the two. Why do people stay in difficult situations that are unhealthy or not working for them, such as an unfulfilling job or a toxic relationship? The answer is often that people are too afraid to see what’s outside their job, their comfort zone, or their sense of normal.”
Teal’s research examines a new twist in our population. She is now finding that there is a generation of students and clients who want to take control of their life — proactively!
“I’m fascinated by these people. It’s connected to the concept of the sigmoid curve. Usually people and organizations don’t make changes until things aren’t going well. However this new generation of workers appears to be shaking up the status quo before things go wrong. This gives me an incredible feeling about our young leaders for the future. As an extension, I am proposing that we start providing more leadership training and coaching at an earlier age.”
One of Teal’s current teaching and learning goals is to design and provide a full course on leadership at the undergraduate level. Its foundation will be both the transformative learning experience and the development of a leadership learning portfolio.
Teal is a tenured faculty member at DeGroote on the teaching track. She’s continuing to foster innovation inside the classroom in order to better engage students and enrich their experience.
“As I do more research I realize that we have to change the way we teach. It’s about trying to foster innovation so we can engage our students to enrich their learning experiences.”
Follow Teal on Twitter @TealMcAteer.