Leadership for Learning:
Two observable characteristics stand out. One is that leaders guide an organization in new directions that may seem radical. The second is that they give direct orders only when necessary. They lead by asking questions, expecting people to think, and they spend much of their time developing people to collectively solve problems. Without transformative leadership, a Vigorous Learning Organization cannot really develop.
As most successful managers find out, when work is complex, no leader can know it all in detail. Neither can anyone else. Dismiss the feeling that as a leader, you must to be “the smartest person in the room.” Leaders of learning are not directive managers. Instead they lead people in meldng their expertise into a whole much greater than the sum of the parts.
What Kind of Leadership?
This type of leadership tries to draw out the best in everyone, including their ideas, and guide people in blending their contributions – somewhat like an orchestra conductor. Leaders for learning are always learning too. Eager learners themselves, they demonstrate how to learn with others. This kind of leadership attitude — and style — has sometimes been called Servant Leadership, symbolized by an upside down pyramid. They also create the organizational policies and ambiance in which a rigorous learning system becomes the discipline by which work teams largely regulate themselves.
But a leader of learning may be demanding, insistent. For example in military combat, mission, not money, is the primary motivator. Few people risk their lives for financial return, so leadership has to be no-nonsense and people-oriented. A good commander does not want to confront peril with people that are less than fully prepared – knowing what to do and ready to do it.
A military leader developing troops must also be aware that their next mission may be very different from the last. Versatility is important. The welfare of every member of the unit depends on the competence and attitude of all, so don’t skimp on preparation. Four simple rules of leadership behavior sum up this up:
Mission is top priority.
Welfare of the troops is second.
My personal welfare is third.
Always tell the truth (good, bad, and ugly).
Even if you dislike the military and its missions, you can apply military leadership concepts to an ecologically regenerative mission. Stop being a manager. Become a leader for learning.
How to Start Becoming a Leader for Learning
First, anyone can immediately begin to lead by asking questions, shunting the responsibility for learning to others (but becoming expert doing this takes lifelong practice). Second, in the words of Dr. Edwards Deming, drive out fear: fear of speaking up, fear of being ridiculed, fear of the unknown, fear of being punished, fear of failure, and fear of sharing with others who might “get a leg up.” For people to learn from mistakes, exorcise the blame casting demons lurking in HR policies. Third, try to run tense meetings using dialog rules. Fourth, people learning new skills feel scared or silly, so reassure everyone that you are there going goofy with them. Everybody is learning.
In short, the work of a Leader for Learning is to guide In a clear direction, to institute rigorous learning systems ( Element #3), and to become a role model demonstrating behaviors for learning.