14 December 2005

Leadership and double loop learning

Learning may be the most important thing a leader can do. I am not talking about learning new knowledge or skills for your job or professional background. I am talking about getting to know yourself. Getting to know the people around you, with whom you work together or cooperate. Learning about the new developments within and without your organization. Learning from the mistakes you make yourself, those that your colleagues make, those made by your organization and found in its surroundings.
With learning I do not rote learning, often negatively described with repository learning. You could compare this repository learning with Argyris’ single loop learning. I am talking about double loop learning. Learning by looking at what happened and comparing those outcomes with the goals that where set. And if necessary adjusting or changing those goals.

Why should leaders learn in double loops? Argyris gives a few reasons:
  1. Past knowledge creates a model of the world. If this model is not adjusted over time, you will try to fit the changes in your surroundings into this outdated model. When this fails it could lead to a feeling of personal failure. Lots of humans however have trouble admitting they make mistakes, based on values they use. Something that could lead to denying that there is a discrepancy between reality and model. By keeping an open mind to differences between model and reality, you create the possibility to adjust the model to reality.
  2. If this model becomes the core of ones professional activities, you slowly start to identify yourself with it. Every critical reaction to the model, from your direct surroundings up to the changing reality, can be seen as a threat to your personality. Suddenly the solution is no longer changing the model, but removing or denying the critique. A reaction could also be to focus the attention on something or someone else. By looking at the model as a instrument, to create a clearer few of reality, it does not become a burden but a tool.
  3. The fear of critique, created by identifying oneself with the model could lead to the fear of having created a imperfect model. One no longer tries to look at the model objectively, but sees every flaw in or fault created with the model as a personal mistake. By constantly comparing the model with reality, one keeps in mind that the model is not the reality. Also the possibility to adjest the model to keep it useful is kept open.

If I had to sum everything up to one scentence, I would say: Keeping an open mind for information out your surrounding and comparing that with the ideas one has based on a model, could help a leader to become a better leader.

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