Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Learning and Teaching

My joy in learning is partly in that it enables me to teach.
The above quote is from Seneca the Younger, an early Roman philosopher and statesman.  Although he is thought to have made this statement during the early part of the first century AD, the sentiment expressed is as true today as it was in his time.  The real joy in learning is very often found in the use of the new knowledge, and the passing on of that knowledge to others.

The importance of learning, and the passing on of knowledge, should strike a chord with strong leaders.  As discussed in an earlier blog post (The Seeds of Change), organizations are organic in nature, which means that they are constantly growing and changing.  For the organization to be growing in the desired direction, leaders need to be sure that focused learning, and the passing on of new knowledge, is encouraged, and that both learning and teaching are highly valued attributes in the workplace.

The leader plays a special role in this process because by modeling the desired behavior (showing that the acts of learning, teaching, and applying new knowledge are valued) the organization has a greater chance of embracing a culture that values growth and change.  Learning and the application of new knowledge is in essence "change".

Peter Senge talks about two types of learning: adaptive learning, and generative learning.  Adaptive learning is the learning that helps us survive.  Organizations, like individuals, must learn in order to compete, gain resources, and survive in a competitive climate.

Generative learning is the learning that "enhances our capacity to create" (Senge).  It is this learning that lets the organization move beyond mere survival, create new and better solutions, and reach new levels of achievement. 

A leader who is both a learner and a willing and enthusiastic teacher helps to create an organizational culture that acknowledges the necessity and value of both adaptive and generative learning, and an organization that enthusiastically sees and reaches for possibilities.