Marlies Lenglachner and Gerald Huther


How can solution-oriented systemic leadership, organizational learning (SOD) be enriched by the science of neurobiology in learning for the future? The supportive leadership approach makes transformational change happen in different contexts.

In this chapter, we offer different aspects of learning for the future in various cultures and invite you to learn for yourself, from neurobiology and real deep learning, that is, learning in which something truly new is generated in the system. This also includes learning in your daily life and inviting others to cocreate and learn recursively together in a new way of thinking and growing together.

Recent findings in neurobiology provide new challenges for the solution-oriented systemic organizational development (OD) approach as well as for learning how to lead authentically and inspiringly, for individuals, teams, departments, organizations and societies in general. Strategic learning and internal branding are the overriding organizational topics of today's management—and these are the key elements of modern leadership. Many organizations are searching for their own way to develop away from the sometimes too many levels of hierarchy, their silo mentality and diverse bureaucratic fructifications. At the same time, each organization has its own history, culture and rituals, and pursues its own identity. Staying flexible is essential to handle all kinds of change.

Teams are nowadays seen as partners of top management in the leadership task of meshing new strategies and directives with innovative products and good solutions that fit each system. The challenges that arise are interdependent and cannot be resolved in isolation. The new relationships are no longer causal or simple but rather complex and dynamic. For teams and their leaders to be able to contribute effectively to the various changes in companies, command-and-control-only organizations also have to alter the relational pattern between top management and employees.

Leaders are challenged to facilitate real deep learning and use a variety of supportive learning architectures from the solution-oriented systemic OD approaches. In such settings, teams become highly innovative and co-create new ideas for solutions or new products fitting for different needs of customers. For many organizations that are set in their traditional command-and-control ways, this more decentralized organizational structure provides a significant challenge, and that is precisely what is needed. Open-mindedness, creativity, flexibility, trust and belief in the success of each endeavor are the cultural elements facilitating creative, innovative deep learning in leader relationships. It has become important to foster dialogue (Bohm, 1996) between the operational and executive levels so that leadership can cultivate entrepreneurial activity with visions and strategies also in the face of daily crises.

Such crises or conflicts may, among others, result from changes in management, changes in market needs, mergers, or—in family businesses —the change from one generation to the next. Irritations sometimes affect a system so that learning occurs within the whole organization and leads to new self-organized networks of communication in the system. There is a parallel to neurobiology: real learning takes place in the brain by dispensing the trodden path, that is, the usual information highway: leaving the comfort zone of usual expectations leads to "flickering" and this leads to new neuronal networks being built between different levels of the brain. Learning on different levels only takes place through a transformational change of perspectives. Therefore it is very important how organizations, units, teams and individuals make their real learning experiences together.

Solution-oriented systemic OD offers many challenging tools for in-depth learning that also taps the potential of emotions. The various combinations with experiential learning bring learning in organizations to bloom (Weick & Sutcliffe, 2001), creativity and flow lead to self-organized learning in systems (Maturana & Varela, 1987) by inviting participants to make new experiences together. It goes without saying that all processes, settings, structures and mechanisms for different client needs are created based on the goals specified by the leading management.

In successful systems with an appropriate learning culture people reflect regularly and use the results as well as their recent conflicts (Lenglachner, 2009) for their own further learning and the necessarily following self-organized change. From time to time they also invite somebody special from the outside into their reflection pool to widen their perspectives and enrich their experiences of their own learning. This is exactly what we as authors of this article did.

You may ask yourself how these two approaches from very different disciplines have come together? Gerald Hüther and Marlies Lenglachner met at a conference about new ways of learning in Frankfurt in 2008 and started to cooperate in the context of an International Summer University later that year. Since then we have conducted a variety of management seminars in national and international companies together, in which we joined our different approaches to leadership development and new deep learning. Gerald Hüther is a neurobiology expert working in many different fields and a well-known writer of numerous books. A university professor and frequent keynote speaker at international conferences, he leads many different projects, also in intercultural contexts. Marlies Lenglachner has many years of experience in creating systemic learning architectures for SOD and leadership learning development as well as organizational learning experiences in various contexts. She also is an author and uses new teaching approaches at a number of universities.

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