David Ulrich and Norm Smallwood in their article called “Building a Leadership Brand”, in the July-August 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review, ask a most unusual and thought-provoking question: What do you want to be know for by your customers? They then follow up with another wonderful question: To achieve that brand identity, what leadership and management skills do people need to know?
As we explored earlier this week, more and more organizations need to become learning organizations in order to be more competitive and more flexible in this time of constant uncertainty and volatility in the markets. However, I believe there are five challenges to this process that few executives are recognizing.
First, many people forget that learning is a dangerous activity. It challenges status quo by calling into question many core practices and systems. Furthermore, in-depth learning can cause the organization’s “immune system” to shut down or discount any new ideas because it again calls into question core assumptions or methods of working.
Second, once an organization does commit to learning new ways of doing things, it must realize that there will always be more than one way to achieve a particular outcome. However, right now, I am witnessing more and more senior teams stuck debating whether or not there is only one right technique and only one right way to do something. We as leaders and learners need to understand that there will always be many paths to the same destination. Part of becoming a learning organization is to educate people to make smarter choices and better decisions along those paths.
Third, part of becoming a learning organization is to build learning communities more than hierarchies of control. Collaboration over individualization, i.e. me first and looking out for #1, requires us to have common language and commit to the overall success of the company. The best learning communities that I have seen are mission centric learning communities.
Fourth, we, as leaders and learners must realize that the more important a relationship and the more time spent developing that relationship to a greater degree of understanding and “health”, then the less skill matters. I have witnessed and understand that building these relationships is as vital as the content that is being learned. It takes healthy relationships and healthy learning to become a learning organization.
Fifth, the more experienced and constantly learning a manager or leader is, the more likely they trust their gut or intuition. Never under estimate the value of years of experience and perspective. It molds people and provides for them an internal sense of what to do. These kinds of managers and leaders often look to the people on the ground, not outside experts, for real improvements.
When we commit to becoming a learning organization, we commit to a wonderful process of in-depth reflection and re-evaluation, and new perspectives.