Do learning organisations require learning leaders? Almost certainly they do, but will learning leaders will require their organisations to learn as well?
There is the stereotype of the bull-headed CEO, hanging on to their dream, forging ahead single-mindedly until they dominate the industry. But is that reality? Can leaders win in today's world without being continuous learners?
A lot of work has been done by the Korn Ferry institute on what they call "Learning Agility" in leaders (see this book for example). I quote from one of their online reports (now no longer available).
"Successful executives learn faster than those who ‘derail’, not because they are more intelligent, but because they have the necessary skills and strategies, and are therefore ‘learning agile’. By contrast, those that do not learn from their jobs, and simply repeat their previous performance in each new role, will never become the most effective leaders"
I was reminded of this yesterday, when reading a Guardian article about the All-Blacks Rugby coach, Graham Henry, describing how his autocratic leadership style changed under challenge. Here is an excerpt
Henry says. “I was arrogant, just so up myself. And it killed me. I’m still alive but it killed me. I realised then that I had to change.” In 2005, Henry was approached by the All Black captain, Tana Umaga. “Coffee, Ted?” he said. “Alright, T,” Henry replied, thinking to himself ‘What’s going on here?’ After a while, Umaga asked: “Ted, what do you give those team talks for?” Henry thought about it. “Well, T, I thought they might provide the team with a bit of motivation, a bit of direction, before the match.” Umaga paused. “Ah, but are they for you, Ted, or are they for us?”
The team talk had been part of Henry’s ritual for 30 years. “You spend the week before each game building the momentum of the group. As you do that, you transfer the responsibility from the coaches to the players but then an hour before the game, there is a fella up the front telling them what to do. I realised it just didn’t fit.” He never gave another team talk.
Thats the story of a leader willing to change under challenge. But if a leader is willing to learn and change, will they come to expect that from their organisations?
If the future CEO is learning-agile, can we expect them to develop a similar learning agility in their organisations?
Building an agile learning organisation
The Graham Henry story certainly goes on to describe how, having dropped his autocratic style, he set about building an agile organisation involving
- Empowerment - involving the players in building the culture and strategy of the team
- Delegation of decision making - even the decision making within the match was delegated, with the team overriding the coaches instructions if they felt there was a better way
- Inclusivity - bringing new players into the coaching set-up to start building their knowledge and experience
- Contingency planning - working out what might go wrong, and havnig contingency plans
And ultimately Henry was successful, and the All Blacks went on to win the last Rubgy World Cup.
Let's see how well they do this time!