ILA Podcast

A Fuller Contact With Reality

Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders

with Dr. Bill Torbert


Dr. Bill Torbert joins Scott to discuss his groundbreaking life’s work on Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry and how we can transform ourselves, social science, and society.


“So horizontal learning is absolutely a key element of learning. But it isn’t the most fundamental kind of learning. The most fundamental and the least often practiced in schools and organizations is vertical learning. Vertical learning has a number of meanings, but one is that each time you change perspective, you get to a kind of higher place, where you see what you did before in different ways, and have access to new possible actions.”

About Dr. Bill Torbert

Bill Torbert is a founding board member of Global Leadership Associates and Amara Collaborative, as well as Leadership Professor Emeritus at Boston College.  Recent recognitions include: the 2010 Outstanding Scholar Award from the Western Academy of Management; the 2012 re-publication of his 2005 HBR article “Seven Transformations of Leadership” as one of the Harvard Business Review’s top ten leadership reads ever; the 2013 Center for Creative Leadership Walter F. Ulmer Jr. Award for Career Contributions to Applied Leadership Research; and the 2014 Chris Argyris Career Achievement Award from the Academy of Management. Between 1978-2008, Torbert served first as BC’s Carroll School Graduate Dean and later as Director of the PhD Program in Organizational Transformation – the MBA program rising from below the top 100 to 25th nationally during his deanship.

With regard to scholarship, Torbert’s 2004 Berrett-Koehler book, Action Inquiry: The Secret of Timely and Transforming Leadership (still in print and now translated into Japanese, Chinese, and Russian) presents his theories, cases, surveys, and lab and field experiments about developmental transformation at both the personal and organizational levels, as well as within science itself, undergirded by an action research process exercised in real-time, everyday life, called “Collaborative Developmental Action Inquiry.” Torbert’s eleven other books and more than 80 articles and chapters include the national Alpha Sigma Nu award-winning Managing the Corporate Dream (Dow Jones-Irwin, 1987), the Terry Award Finalist book The Power of Balance: Transforming Self, Society, and Scientific Inquiry (Sage, 1991); and Eros/Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry (Integral Publishers, 2016), co-authored with action inquiry colleague Hilary Bradbury.

Torbert received a BA, magna cum laude, in Political Science & Economics and a Ph.D. in Administrative Sciences, both from Yale University, holding a Danforth Graduate Fellowship during his graduate years.  He founded the Yale Upward Bound (War on Poverty) program and the Theatre of Inquiry and taught at Yale, Southern Methodist University, and Harvard prior to joining the Boston College faculty in 1978.  Most of all, though, Bill takes great pleasure and pride (not to mention occasional pain) in the ongoing development of his closest friends and colleagues, of his three sons, Michael, Patrick, and Benjamin, and of their children.

His latest book is Numbskull in the Theater of Inquiry.

Host Scott J. Allen

Scott Allen

Scott J. Allen, Ph.D., is the Standard Products—Dr. James S. Reid Chair in Management at John Carroll University. He is an associate professor and teaches courses in leadership, management skills, and executive communication. He is also a communications coach, consultant, author, podcast host, and entrepreneur. For almost two decades, he’s worked with clients to improve their leadership and communication skills. Learn more about Scott here.

About Phronesis

Phronesis: Practical Wisdom for Leaders offers a smart, fast-paced discussion on all things leadership. Scott and his expert guests cover timely, relevant topics and incorporate practical tips designed to help you make a difference in how you lead and live.