Learning and Leadership

Organization Application

In this section we will be discussing the application of critical and creative thinking, our understanding of perspectives, and system’s thinking to help us develop a learning organization. We have touched on many different topics in the preceding chapters, but have given no direction to do one thing or another. As a matter of point we have at several times stated that only the organization can truly teach themselves to become a learning organization. While an organization might need an outside activity or individual to aid in developing some of the critical thinking processes specific to organizational development they should not be required for situation diagnosis (i.e., what are the inhibitors to ... or our issues are...). If an organization feels that they need outside assistance to understand an issue internal to itself, they should probably be asking the following questions:

■ What is stopping us from identifying our own issues?

■ Have we identified the issues, but not acted upon them?

■ Do we have workarounds to our processes and if so why?

■ Who knows about those workarounds and have they been brought to the attention of senior personnel?

■ Does information flow, where does it flow to, and what is done with said information and why?

■ What is the difference between teaching a process and developing creative thinking?

■ How, if at all, does critical and creative thinking apply to a learning organization and organizational development?

These are just a few of the questions we should be asking ourselves to determine what actions need to be taken and by whom. As we will discuss in the following sections each level of the organization needs different information and will take different information based upon that information. However, the information is generated from another section, usually the preceding group (proceeding process), and the group developing the information needs to be familiar with what the information is used for in the long run.


Management is defined as: Interlocking functions of creating effective policy and organizing, planning, controlling, and directing an organization’s resources in order to achieve specific objectives.[1]

Management has been around since the beginning of civilization yet we have just recently begun to develop theories related to management.1 While management has been around for centuries its focus was not business as we know it today. This was primarily due to there being no business of a size to warrant or to be considered to warrant management except politics and the expanse and maintenance of the empire. It was not until the 19th century that theories of management were starting to develop. Some examples of management theories are classical management, scientific management, bureaucracy, human relations, contingency, and system theories. It was not until around the 1900’s that Frederick Winslow Taylor started developing management as a science that management was given any real thought.

According to Frederick Winslow Taylor in The Principles of Scientific Management 1910 the initiative of the workmen (i.e., their hard labor, honesty, and the resourcefulness) is obtained with more consistency using the scientific approach to management, but this approach places new responsibilities on the management personnel. These new responsibilities would fall into four different areas:

First: Replace the tribal knowledge of the work with a scientific method.

Second: Develop the worker through teaching, training, and proper selection (job-fit).

Third: Honestly collaborate with the workers to employ the scientific principles

used to develop the tasks.

Fourth: Equal division of labor and responsibility for both management and

worker, each doing what they are best suited [2]

During the last 100 years there have been numerous theories on leadership styles, leadership approaches, and actions of leaders (Style Leadership Theory1'). Before we proceed with our discussion on managers and supervisors we must look at some of these areas in the leadership area to better understand how they would apply and when a shifting of the style or theory might be necessary or occur.

In the book Multiplier by Liz Wiseman, she points out that there are two different leadership approaches that she refers to as Diminishers and Multipliers. Both of these require very intelligent people, but use their intelligence in different ways. Diminishers approach the people with perspective that the team members will never figure what is going on and the appropriate action to take without the leader. Multipliers, on the other hand, see their people as intelligent and able to figure things out on their own and would rather guide or help the team to do just that.

From her book below are the five disciplines of each category:[2]

■ Multipliers - believe that people are smart and can figure things out

  • - Talent Magnet
  • - Liberator
  • - Challenger
  • - Debater
  • - Investor

■ Diminishers - believe people will not figure it out without the leader

  • - Empire builder
  • - Tyrant
  • - Know-it-all
  • - Decision maker
  • - Micromanager

Both can get results, but the larger magnitude and more sustainable approach is accomplished by the multipliers. The multipliers create an environment where those on the team are continuously learning and exploring opportunities. It is an environment to which talent will flock as team members will be expected to demonstrate what they know and can accomplish together. The leader is a challenger - setting stretch goals to help the team develop their skills and competencies while doing the work. They are good at discussing and debating decisions and alternatives, which provide opportunities for learning. These leaders free the people to make decisions and act on what they know and provide opportunities for learning in doing so.

Contrast that with the Diminsher, where all the decisions will be made by this leader. The Diminisher will hire smart, talented people, but then by dint of making all the decisions will erode the team member’s confidence and remove opportunities for learning.

If we look at the leadership table, we can determine which leadership style relates to the Multiplier and the Diminisher and how all of this directly relates to the Style Leadership Theory. Doing this will allow us to complete the manager and supervisor puzzle in our following discussion. However, we must keep in mind that no one leadership style or theory can pertain to every situation or individual and as managers and supervisors we balance the goals of the organization, the group/ department, and the individual to produce effective results.

There are some modern organizations that have reduced the management levels. For example, the software gaming company Valve provides a unique approach to the organization structure. The employee handbook is an interesting read that describes a truly unique approach to the work[4] From the very first paragraph on how to use the book, it is clear this is not the typical welcome to the organization, human resources book.

This book isn’t about fringe benefits or how to set up your workstation or where to find source code. Valve works in ways that might seem counterintuitive at first. This handbook is about the choices you’re going to be making and how to think about them. Mainly, it’s about how not to freak out now that you’re here.

This manual is professed to be written by the team member’s using these team members’ experiences with onboarding in the organization. In addition, there is explanation to those new acquisitions, of the reasons for the lack of hierarchical structure, and it is worded in such a way to clearly demonstrate the reasons for this structure while also pointing to the expectation upon the new hire.

Hierarchy is great for maintaining predictability and repeatability. It simplifies planning and makes it easier to control a large group of people from the top down, which is why military organizations rely on it so heavily. But when you’re an entertainment company that’s spent the last decade going out of its way to recruit the most intelligent, innovative, talented people on Earth, telling them to sit at a desk and do what they’re told obliterates 99 percent of their value. We want innovators, and that means maintaining an environment where they’ll flourish.

The new employee book goes on to explain that the company is the newly hired employees to steer toward opportunities and away from risks. The work further describes how the employee selects the project, not the typical associations where the employee is assigned a project with the associated objectives and work products. Essentially, an individual has the choice of what needs to be done and whether any specific individual wants to do it or can accomplish the objective. Essentially the team member finds out what they work on by free association with the other team members learning about their respective areas of interest. Even when it comes to deciding what work poses the best business impact, the new hire is able to have influence. This includes commentary on group think; just because another team member says it is not good to work on a certain project or set of work, critical thinking on the topic from the new employee is expected.

We were so taken by this atypical handbook that we made several attempts to have a discussion with members of this organization but were unable to do so. We encourage any readers of this work to check out their employee handbook; it will likely give you some ideas for how to change your organization.

  • [1] * Good one to know! (n.d.). Retrieved April 8, 2019, from http://www.businessdictionary.com/definition/management.html ' This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it (2018, August 14). How Modern Management Theories wereDeveloped. Retrieved April 8, 2019, from https://iedunote.com/modern-management-theories
  • [2] Wiseman, L. (2017). Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter. New York:Harper Business.
  • [3] Wiseman, L. (2017). Multipliers: How the best leaders make everyone smarter. New York:Harper Business.
  • [4] https://steamcdn-a.akamaihd.net/apps/valve/Valve_NewEmployeeHandbook.pdflastaccessed5/14/2019.
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