[September 08, 2014] One of the many surprises that I encountered as a military flag officer was the number of senior civilians who were uneducated in their field. By uneducated I don’t mean they lacked a formal college degree but they had stopped their education in any meaningful way. They must have figured that all they needed was to “punch their ticket” by earning an academic degree and that would make them successful. The challenge for senior leaders, however, is to build a learning culture that carries throughout a person’s career, and if lucky enough, throughout their lifetime.
Yes, there were civilians and military personnel who had obtained their education from a suspect college. I had the bad luck of working with a handful of civilians in the Department of Defense who were functionally illiterate but who had college degrees. This gets back to the lack of accountability in many organizations. More on this later. Yet, I had to ask myself, “why were these people not furthering their education?” Why did they not take the opportunity to learn? In many organizations, the availability to learn is there, but the organization has no learning culture.
What the most successful senior leaders want is a workplace that drives innovation, that tries new things, and that encourages problem solving. To make this happen, as we see in the best of organizations, it is done in a workplace environment that embraces continuous learning. Of course, this discussion is not just about academic education. It’s also about senior leaders creating a high-impact learning environment that gives employees the right mental tools and motivates.
There are a number of things senior leaders must do to ensure a continuous learning environment:
- Build trust and confidence in learning
- Show the value of learning
- Provide educational and special learning opportunities
- Establish a process where what is learned can be shared
- Empower employees to learn
- Construct a formal learning system
This is an exciting area for senior leaders. The investment in their time and energy is small relative to the benefit. Senior leaders can lead learning through their personal actions, organizational policies, and through their encouraging efforts. In doing so, they will be encouraging a work environment that is enduring and thriving … and successful.
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