Leadership skills in Learning Organisations

In a globalized new economic environment where the flow of information and the the technological advancements increase in an unprecedented pace, leadership and organization, just like all aspect of business, have changed substantially. Organizational learning is now considered a fundamental source of competitive advantage (Lopez et al, 2005); a new view of organizations that require respective adjustments to be made in the leadership as well as all organizational structure approaches like accounting for social aspects of learning and knowledge.

Sadler (2003) reviews the leadership literature and lists nine distinct phases of focus out of which it becomes clear that the old model of a leader as a hero and its related notions belong to the past. A leader today needs to nurture the firm’s source of competitive advantage: organizational learning and knowledge. Leadership in organizational learning context is not an easy task since organizational learning is on its own merit a highly complex process perhaps equal to the complexity that leadership implies, we have consequently a combination of two highly complex issues.  

Perhaps the most critical area for leadership within a learning organization is the genuine and profound learning stance of the leader him/her-self, or as Sadler (2003) phrases it citing Binney and Williams “combining leading and learning”. A learning stance, besides the critical ability to understand and consequently design effective learning structures and processes within the organization as well as the example setting effect, results also in an inclusive decision making approach that is another high leverage area for leadership in a learning organization. 

One more critical area for leadership in learning organisation settings is its social context or in other words the ability to hold the space to contain learning that some name “Ba” and others “communities of Practice”. Holding the space in a learning organisation involves aligning all external and internal factors of learning like the organisational culture which is also highly connected with the previously mentioned critical area or leadership and yet includes so many aspects on its own merit, or time perspectives, emotional management and individual behavioural and cognitive learning. 

Tension has generally been recognized as a facilitator of learning, change and development, with Senge (1990) referring to creative tension as the energy to move from current reality to a vision and Sadler (2003) citing Heifetz referring to stress as the basic parameter for change. In this context, organisations should account for the social aspects of organizational learning and knowledge and specifically nurture the positive or creative tensions that arise from those aspects for the benefit of learning. Historical embeddedness, national culture’s various influences and mental models as well as all kinds of internal and external boundaries are social aspects (Child, 2003) that can either undermine or highly support and encourage organizational learning, consequently need to be managed carefully and always with a learning stance that can guide a leader towards the positive use of any tension at hand.


López, S.P., Peón, J.M.M. & Ordás, C.J.V. (2005) ‘Organizational Learning as a Determining Factor in Business Performance’, The Learning Organization, 12 (3), pp. 227-245. 

Sadler, P. (2003) ‘Leadership and Organizational Learning’. In: Dierkes, M., Berthoin Antal, A., Child, J. & Nonaka, I., eds. (2003) Handbook of organizational learning and knowledge. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp. 415-427 

Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline. The art and practice of the learning organization, London: Random House.