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Leading the learning organization

Posted on April 11, 2017 by in Business Management, General Interest, Management & Leadership Skills with Comments Off on Leading the learning organization
  • Part two of a two-part series.

Many people and organizations find themselves motivated to change only when their problems are bad enough to cause them to change. This works for a while, but the change process runs out of steam as soon as the problems driving the change become less pressing. With problem solving, the motivation for change is extrinsic. With creative tension, the motivation is intrinsic. This distinction mirrors the distinction between adaptive and generative learning.

New leadership roles require new leadership disciplines. Three of the most critical are building shared vision, surfacing and challenging mental models and engaging in systems thinking. These disciplines can only be developed, in my judgment, through a lifelong commitment. And in learning organizations, these disciplines must be distributed widely because they embody the principles and practices of effective leadership.

The skills involved in building shared vision include the following:

  • Encouraging personal vision. Shared visions emerge from personal visions. It is not that people only care about their own self-interest; in fact, people’s values usually include dimensions that concern family, organization, community and even the world. Rather, it is that people’s capacity for caring is personal.
  • Communicating and asking for support. Leaders must be willing to share their own vision continually, rather than being the official representative of the corporate vision. They also must ask, “Is this vision worthy of your commitment?” This is hard for people used to setting goals and presuming compliance.
  • Visioning as an ongoing process. Today, too many managers want to dispense with the “vision business” by writing the Official Vision Statement. Such statements almost always lack the vitality, freshness and excitement of a genuine vision that comes from people asking, “What do we really want to achieve?”
  • Blending extrinsic and intrinsic visions. Many energizing visions are extrinsic, focusing on achieving something relative to a competitor. But a goal that is limited to defeating an opponent can, once the vision is achieved, easily become a defensive posture. In contrast, intrinsic goals – such as creating a new product, taking an old product to a new level, or setting a new standard for customer satisfaction – elicit more creativity and innovation. Intrinsic and extrinsic visions need to coexist; a vision solely predicated on defeating an adversary will eventually weaken an organization.
  • Distinguishing positive from negative visions. Many organizations only pull together when their survival is threatened. Similarly, most social movements aim at eliminating what people don’t want; thus, we see anti-drugs, anti-smoking, or anti-nuclear arms movements. Negative visions tend to be short-term and carry a message of powerlessness.