It's often said that change is steady progression of minor learning adjustments rather than abrupt leaps between paradigms. How we learn is no different, it's a steady accumulation of data that sooner or later becomes information which later morphs into knowledge. That's why we as leaders need to understand how people learn so we can create learning cultures rather than environments of rote, blind faith.
Learning is Change
Change is a process, not an event. None of us learned to read, ride a bike, pack a suitcase, or be a parent in a day. None of us became instant leaders when "Manager" became part of our titles.
Learning the art of leadership is a continual process of change. That innate receptiveness to learning is what motivates leaders to create learning cultures where workers become innovators, taking emotional ownership of an organization and thinking of new ways increase productivity and quality.
Over time, in learning cultures, those things that are difficult become easy (or, easier). Some theorists say it takes 10,000 hours studying to become an expert. During my four years of college, I took a bunch of classes on all sorts of subjects. I didn't spend 10,000 hours in any one of my class subjects. But, I probably did spend 10,000 hours learning about systems, specifically the University of California education system. I learned how to manipulate the registrar's office, develop parking strategies, and spoil my professors. At the end of it all, I learned how to learn, meaning I learned critical thinking skills. Freshmen are new learners; seniors are sage oracles.
That Uncomfortable Middle Period
The middle period of learning is what Steven Sample, past president of the University of Southern California calls 'time thinking'. Time thinking is that center stage of reflection, mistake making, and learning that ultimately leads toward those aha moments of, "Now I get it!" To create learning environments, we leaders must take care to let our co-workers figure things out on their own through positive support.
We all know the Ken Blanchard analogy that the trainers at SeaWorld don't beat killer whales into submission. Instead, they motivate their giant cohorts by giving them what they like, fish. Why? Killer whales are really big and can eat you. Same goes with our co-journeyers (what I call fellow employees). Without learning environments full of patience, time thinking, and path making, the people who do the work can't be productive and will turn on you.
As leaders, we want our co-journeyers to discover their own aha-moments. It's our job to set up situations where people can learn and succeed. If they fail it's because we did something wrong. Our business goal is to create environments where productivity and quality are kings. However, creating productive cultures doesn't automatically lead to states of ultimate nirvana. Instead, like all learning, like all change, reaching higher levels of productivity and quality is a process, not a goal.
Caveat for Bad Change
A caveat: every action, like taking the steps to create learning cultures, assumes risk because not all change is productive. It's a tough decision determining when to cut ill fated projects. Our innate fear of failure that some larger corporate best will eat us while were in a vulnerable state kicks in
Change and Leadership
To reverse bad change takes top leadership skills. Meandering through that reverse-change period when wrong decisions are righted creates uncomfortable angst because any number of things can go wrong. Leaders must assess damage, scan environments for internal and external factors (good and bad), adjust plans (or abolish them), and proceed in new directions.
To stay on our learning theme, leaders must use those 'oops-I-made-a-mistake' situations as teaching examples of how we learn from mistakes. In this way of thinking, learning is a shared basic assumption of organizational purpose.
Even when things go wrong in learning/change processes, learning is a positive experience and good for business, which is why learning cultures tend to be friendly, supportive, and collaborative.