Why do we study History? Arguably, there are many reasons – to learn about past societies, learn about past leaders, to learn valuable skills and attributes of the past, to learn morals and ethical practices that contributed to the greater good of society, and so on.
The key word here is “Learn”, so that one does not make the same mistakes of past societies while concomitantly creating a “Learning Organization”, society, or generation that will sustain from prior learning for generations to come.
In 1990 David L. Steward co-founded World Wide Technology (WWT), Inc. Beginning in 1996, WWT was ranked by VAR Business as one of the Top 500 companies in the US; Inc began ranking WWT beginning in 1997. In 2004 Steward wrote a book about his company called, Doing Business by the Good Book: 52 Lessons on Success Straight from the Bible. WWT is ranked number 24 on the Fortune 2013 Top 100 listing of companies to work for.
You see, history, and the lessons there from, can be learned from a variety of sources, including the Bible, which is chocked full of leadership skills, techniques, strategies and ideals. The New International Version (NIV), Leadership Bible: Leadership Principles from God’s Word is a valuable leadership learning resource. It should be noted, and quite emphatically, that these valuable leadership lessons and practices are not intended solely for churches and other religious organization.
The Learning Organization
Success embodies life-long learning as a practical and sustaining attribute. Leaders know this – as life and organizations evolve, new policies, principles and practices create changes to improve employee effectiveness. Leaders not only train employees on new ideas and practices, they also expect them to research, study and learn on their own.
For a variety of reasons, few organizations keep the same leadership over several years. During the tenure of a particular leader, successes are achieved, affirmations proclaimed and awards are garnered. Success and the rewards achieved can peak, and unless learning continues, begin to plateau. Follow-on leadership must insure enthusiasm does not relax or diminish, which can easily decline into less than effective work ethics. People must remember past practices to sustain efficiency, learn from new ideas, and change accordingly to maintain sustainability.
An effective learning organization will inhibit periods of decline through the building process of an organizational legacy.
Five Attributes of a Learning Organization
The Apostle Paul, in a letter written in AD/NE 62 to the people of Colosse, as laid out in the Leadership Bible, Book of Colossians, outlines five major attributes of a Learning Organization. In the letter, Paul’s desire is for leaders of the church to instill an ideal of learning. In a functional organization, learning takes place at all times, during work, in building relationships, after hours, quite frankly – at all times. Each organization has a curriculum built into the daily functions of all employees. The learning organizational structure – curriculum – is outlined in five attributes.
Standards. Organizational values, employee ethical expectations, and behavioral standards must be outlined clearly, and disseminated in writing to each and every employee, as well as publishing them in the Organization’s policy and procedures.
Instruction. Just knowing of the standards – wisdom – is insufficient for sustainability. Training sessions must be held to explain their meanings and the associated ethical practices required by employees – understanding. Wisdom and Understanding help leaders achieve employee acceptance, as well as buy-in that teaches the importance in instituting the standards into their individual value systems. Employees must understand that they represent the company regardless of their location and whether working or living in their community.
Practice. Practice makes perfect. Practice creates habitual behaviors, which teach personal growth and life-skills. Practice also enables success after failure by teaching what “should” have been done versus what “was” done. Practice builds expertise in professional skills and personal life styles. Practice solidifies the value system associated with professionalism that sustains with growth and learning.
Feedback. Leaders need to constantly and consistently monitor and evaluate performance. Employees require feedback in order to insure practice is productive. And when exceptional or positively productive, public praise is required to build confidence and esteem. Conversely, private feedback is necessary when practice reflects negatively on the individual, the team, and the organization. Private feedback reinforces instruction. It re-teaches required policies and practices, to re-direct the employee’s learning and productivity. It then allows for follow-on practice and future feedback. Feedback teaches for personal growth.
Release. Micro-managing, even micro-leading, is counterproductive to growth and employee effectiveness and efficiency. Constantly keeping an “eye-ball” on those you lead creates an “ask the boss” mentality that inhibits personal confidence and growth. Leaders must release control, leaders must empower others, leaders must let employees make mistakes from which they can learn, leaders must let them grow and function on their own. Sooner or later leaders must let them “drive Dad’s car” to demonstrate that their personal values and behaviors conform with organizational norms and expectations. Release is vitally important to long-term growth and performance.
The attributes of a learning organization create an attitude of endurance, which prevents fall-back to old, unproductive ways, and enables sustainability. Employees desire standards for their own behaviors, they desire to learn and grow, they desire to be empowered to fail or succeed, and they desire to be turned loose to become leaders in their own right.
One intrinsic reward of leadership is knowing that you made a difference in the organizational learning process. Material rewards are short-lived; intrinsic rewards are life-long and become your personal legacy.
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