Leading Roles in a Learning Organization

by Dr. Pat Galdeen

Leaders have an important role in learning organizations. Senge (1999) provided some ideas about the roles of a learning organization leader that apply to coalition leadership.

First, as a coalition leader, you have a designer role, creating a common vision and purpose. Many of you have already taken on this role. As coalition leaders, you have worked with your teams to create visions and goals you all support.

Now let’s take that one step further. In a coalition that has a shared vision, mission, and purpose, staff and members are empowered to build their skills and capabilities in powerful, effective ways. Having a clear vision and purpose focuses all activity toward these shared values and goals.

To move further in that direction, coalition leaders should seek training that builds skills and provides opportunities for staff and board members to share their expertise in relevant areas. A learning organization leader also determines policies (ex, by-laws), strategies (strategies for effective community change), and structures (ex, staff/board membership and cooperation) that help to guide ideas into action.

Leading your team in reflection and open sharing throughout the design process will result in the best conditions for the continuous improvement of policies, strategies, and structures (Senge, 1999).

Second, you have the role of teacher. As a coalition leader, you coach your staff and board and is one of your basic tools is your logic models. Your understanding and ability to examine your community’s issues using the lens of the logic model helps your staff and board see beyond the surface conditions and events to the root causes.

Among the benefits of your teaching role is gaining knowledge from those who you teach, becoming a better team member, distributing coalition information, developing as a professional, and improving collaboration. As a teacher in your coalition, you deliver on your responsibility to prepare and drive the agenda of the coalition (Goodman, n.d.).

Finally, you have the role of steward. As the coalition leader, you understand that you are a part of something bigger. Your goal is not to be a solo practitioner, but to help build and shape a coalition designed to accomplish the larger purpose. Stewardship should be an effort to prepare the coalition for the future. Stewardship takes shape at different coalition levels.

One way to ensure this is for leaders to make certain everyone is happy and well-equipped in their coalition role and environment. At the coalition team level, a leader is charged with developing the conditions for healthy team interactions. One way for a leader to accomplish this is to establish team roles, responsibilities, rules (like hours and date s to work, methods of communication, etc.) Team conduct guidelines clarify expectations to avoid future misunderstandings.

Your stewardship begins with individual well-being, transitions to team effectiveness, and finally leads to coalition-level considerations, where you make certain that coalition values and goals remain appropriate. To implement these as a coalition is the final challenge, made easier by individuals and teams working well together (Geleta, n.d.).

As a leader in the learning coalition you:
  1. Design the vision and purpose, the policies, strategies, and structures used to make good decisions and create learning processes;
  2. Teach your coalition staff, board, and members; and
  3. Steward them as they create an ongoing sustainable coalition through individuals, teams, and the coalition.

Geleta, B. (n.d.). What is stewardship, and should all great leaders practice it? The NYTimes in Education. Retrieved from http://nytimesineducation.com/spotlight/what-is-stewardship-and-should-all-great-leaders-practice-it/

Goodman, N. (n.d.). Leaders as teachers the next generation. ISA: The Association of Learning Providers. Retrieved from https://trainingmag.com/trgmag-article/leaders-teachers-next-generation

Senge, P., Kleiner, A., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Roth, G. and Smith, B. (1999). The dance of change: The challenges of sustaining momentum in learning organizations.  New York: Doubleday/Currency.