Challenges of Leadership and Learning Organization

“The chain is only as strong as its weakest link, for if that fails the chain fails and the object that it has been holding up falls to the ground.” – Thomas Reid, Essays On The Intellectual Powers Of Man (Reid & Walker, 2006). The “object” in reference could be a business. A business is made up of employees led by a leader who is driving the business objective. Employees are likened to the “chain” placed together and holding up the business. Each employee’s strength / ability in fulfilling his/her individual task adds towards achieving the goals of the business. In order to ensure that the staff remain relevant, businesses look towards continual learning and upskilling, thus evolving into a learning organisation (Senge, 1990). From the CEO to the cleaner, learning is essential. The cleaner can reduce manual labour and increase efficiency after learning how to use robot cleaners to cover more grounds and get more work done.

Figure 1.1 Building a learning organisation (Serrat, 2017)
Figure 1.2 Four blocks for organisational learning

Through these essential building blocks in organisational learning (Figure 1.1 and Figure 1.2), Serrat continued to emphasise the importance of leaders motivating and creating learning opportunities for their employees, to ask the reason for learning “why”. The methods of learning, “how and what”, and finally when the opportunity of “when and where” learning can take place within the organization. These must be intentional with the role of the leader, regardless of the leadership style.

Figure 1.3 Similarities in practical steps

While there have been many articles that wrote about learning organisation, few have provided practical steps into how to achieve it (Garvin, 2003). Garvin, Edmondson and Gino (2008) provided practical steps which leaders can take in order to promote learning within the organisation, complementing Serrat’s blocks of organisational learning (Figure 1.3). Garvin, et al (2008) shared how the former chief executive of American Express, Harvey Gulub, was never satisfied with following the norms blindly but pushed his employees to view problems from all angles before settling for a solution, hence ensuring solutions were properly scrutinised and not settling for the conventional approach.

Figure 1.4 Practical methods to execute leadership styles

Leaders have to recognise their leadership styles so they can capitalise on their knowledge and motivate employees to learn and grow. Transformational and charismatic leaders inspire and motivate employees to learn while transactional leaders reward employees for improving themselves. Chomorro-Premuzic and Bresin (2018) shared four ways to build a learning culture (Figure 1.4), which are adopted by large companies like Google and American Express. Figure 1.4 showed the practical methods relevant to transformational and transactional leadership.

Figure 1.5 Characters of a growth mindset (Campbell, et al., 2020)

Regardless of leadership style, the methods remain applicable. Microsoft has embraced a “growth mindset” mooted by their CEO Satya Nadella (Payne, 2020) when he took the helm in 2014. This concept revolves around a person believing that they could continue to grow, build capabilities, and learn no matter the outcome of their learning experience. Figure 1.5 provided a breakdown of the characteristics that a manager could adopt to promote a growth mindset among his/her employees. At Microsoft, Chief Technology Officer Giovanni Morales’s then supervisor was very interested in his personal and professional growth, giving him meaningful and constructive feedback. By doing so, Morales was more invested in his own learning path. Nadella also led by example by introducing Microsoft Learn to make learning available within Microsoft and to the public. Gabriela Barros also felt rewarded when she could apply the learning and help her customers, displaying self-motivation, being curious, and learning more.

Despite knowing that to progress is to learn, there are companies that resist learning. Gino and Staats (2015) shared that the fear of failure, a fixed mindset, being over-reliant on past success/es, failure to learn from mistakes are often contributing factors to why companies fail to evolve into a learning organisation. Successful companies learn to keep up with times and it is the evolution of learning and development that will give them an edge and keep them ahead in their industries. A such, each employee within the company must contribute towards the goal, and leaders play a critical role in encouraging learning within the organisation. Regardless of the style of leadership, leaders play an essential role in creating a positive environment for learning.

In conclusion, the series of leadership topics, theories, lessons, and example shared previously and today are important for learning. However, this only shows 10% effectiveness, the other 90% comes from the reader who has the power to execute the lessons learned.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Great read ! I’ve learnt a lot just from reading your article and references are reputable.

  2. Amazed that I did not realize that I can also view leadership and learning from your lens of wisdom, thank you for sharing this irreplaceable piece of hard work! I appreciate how the four building blocks of organizational learning is picturized and how the similarities in practical steps complement the body of knowledge. What struck me is the growth mindset idea, which is easier said than done, especially in times of difficulties. Nevertheless, that’s what separates the title-based leaders from the true leaders. This gives me the confidence to say that your ability to deduce this makes you a true leader.

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog post!

  3. Great Post! Love the wide angle approach on learning and the Microsoft example! Fully agree that for anything to change, one must be willing to execute! Thank you for sharing!

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