Sep 27, 2008

On Learning to Learn

Having been dabbling and trying to learn Instructional Design, and getting to know what the Walker Cycle and Bloom's Taxonomy is all about, a Tweet from Dina and her subsequent blog post triggered off a thought process.

We've all heard of the quote "the future belongs to those who learn to learn, unlearn and re-learn". But what does it mean?

Then it struck me.

Learning a higher level skill, specially at the analytical, synthesis and evaluation levels on the cognitive level - or any skill at the affective level - or the adaptation and origination category in psychomotor level - really calls for changing one's worldview.

While the word for all these might be learning - yet it does not justify the full import of the changes that are needed.

Let's take the developmental and learning need of managers who have to graduate to the next level and actually lead. As Marcus Buckingham points out what a great manager does and what a great leader does can seem contradictory.

To manage well requires that you recognize the subtle, but important, differences between people and that you know how to put those differences to work for your organization. Great managers thrive on helping people experience incremental growth. The dynamic creativity of figuring out how to move from the player to the plays is the real genius of a great manager.
Leadership isn’t about that at all. Leadership is about finding the words, stories, and images that bring great clarity to people. And that’s just different from being a good manager. You could have both talents, but good managers don’t necessarily make good leaders.

So when you actually "learn" leadership - you actually make a great shift in your worldview. You cannot build a new worldview on top of your existing ones. You have to let them go. These mindsets could be dependent on context of the role one is doing, too.

For example, specialist functions in HR focus on making a standard policy/process that can be applied uniformly across the business unit/organization. As a Training Manager/OD Specialist that was my role.

However, the mindset of the HR generalist is actually to manage exceptions and they face issues depending on how the specialist's policy/process is impacting their employees. When I did my stint as a HR Manager of a business unit that was clear to me.

So in a role, I couldn't really say which was correct and which was wrong. As both the roles are structured and the contexts are different.

Letting go of non-relevant mindsets is the first step of learning to learn.

That is the most difficult part than actually picking up the 'skills' IMHO. This is particularly true when learning interventions are given based on potential, rather than for people who are actually facing the situation. So when you tell a Manager that he/she needs a certain skill for being a General Manager/VP then they really don't know what would be actual shift required.


  1. Buckingham sounds a bit confused. I doubt that he has ever truly managed people and done so long enough and with enough perseverance to learn what managing and leadership is. Sounds like he is an observer and not proven in the trenches what he professes. Having managed people for over 30 years, made all the mistakes but changed so as to successfully turn around four different management disasters, I learned the right and wrong ways to manage people.

    Quite simply, managers manage resources and functions such as finance, machines, production, supply chain, and people. People are just another resource. Each of these resources and functions has particular characteristics which dictate, repeat dictate how they should be managed. Fail to understand their characteristics and you will fail to make effective use of that resource or function.

    People have certain characteristics such as the basic needs to be heard and to be respected. And people respond to leadership, good or bad, a characteristic not shared by machines or finances. And because of their upbringing, the vast majority of people are followers and thus need superior leadership to "lead" them to very high performance.

    My point is that manager or leader is a false issue and only serves to prevent us from understanding what we need to do. If you are dealing with people, you need to understand what leadership actually is, or what it is that people follow, and how to use it to your advantage.

    Leadership applies to people and denotes the sending of value standard messages to people which they then follow/use. Thus we say that they have been "led" in the direction of those value standards. Leadership is therefore one side of the coin called values, the other side being followership.

    Leadership is not a process any manager can change. It happens inexorably every minute of every day because most people are followers, conformists. The only choice available to a manager is the standard (good, bad, mediocre or in between) which employees will follow.

    For instance, the top-down command and control technique is a specific method by which to manage people . Since top-down by its nature demeans and disrespects people, it "leads" them to demean and disrespect their work, their customers, each other and their bosses resulting in very poor performance. Being disrespected, they become demotivated and demoralized thus resulting in the company not being able to use their natural creativity, innovation and productivity. Company performance suffers greatly thus making top-down managers the company's worst enemies.

    If you want to lead employees to very high performance, treat them with great respect and not like robots, thus leading them to treat their work, their customers, each other and their bosses with great respect.

    To learn the details of managing people so as to release all of their natural talents, please read these Leadership Articles starting with the article "Leadership, Good or Bad".

    Best regards, Ben