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Grow Your Own Leaders

Updated on February 21, 2015

One of the most prominent developments today in leadership is the focus on adaptive leadership. Adaptive leadership focuses on leaders who possess the agility to change as quickly or quicker than the market shifts that are occurring within the business climate and as leaders, are able to facilitate their organizations in making the necessary changes and transformations to remain viable and strong in a weak and challenging economic environment.

In his book, “The Fifth Discipline,” Peter Senge focused on the value and benefits of a learning organization. Peter focused on organizations needing to be agile, change capable, and adaptable to the move to globalization, ever evolving technology, demographic shifts in workers and customers, etc. The ability to adapt and change is a hallmark of learning organizations. Why is a learning organization so critically important? A learning organization becomes dissatisfied with the status quo. A learning organization continually looks for ways to improve its organizational processes and work structures and to evolve and change to better meet the market demands. As the organization continues to focus on being continuous improvement-driven, the learning organization moves farther from the status quo and works to create the new future in which it will operate and perform. This process of being continuous improvement-driven also addresses the topic of innovation for the organization as it tries out new things and abandons processes or work structures that no longer work.

Photo taken by Stephen D. Sylvester
Photo taken by Stephen D. Sylvester | Source

Learning organizations build adaptable cultures. Cultural rigidity has led plenty of organizations to fail to exercise the learning organization adaptability and have suffered the consequences either through shareholder profits, customer relationships, or employees relations. Organizations like RIM (Blackberry), Coors Beer, General Motors, Red Bull, etc. all have failed to adapt to change when change was needed.

Schein (1995) refers to the role of leadership in creating the culture of the organization. That when the organization is being created, leadership works more as creative animators. In the building phase, the leadership must be creators of the organizational culture. To maintain the organization they must be sustainers of the organizational culture and when changes or transformations of the organization are needed they must be change agents. The leaders of the organization must have prepared the organization for the ever changing business climate and make changing an integral part of how the organization survives and thrives in the marketplace.

Organizations that are ready and able to change are more transformational in their make-up and therefore are able to evolve the organization as needed. Leaders that are continuous learners and support a learning organization are able to articulate what is missing within the organization today and identify the changes that are necessary and required in order to ensure the adaptability of the organization. A learning organization adapts and values mentoring and coaching within the organization. The importance of giving and receiving feedback, open and transparent communications, listening to what employees value, and trust in leadership are highly prominent within the adaptive leadership culture. Leadership exists at the top of the organization but is also emphasized throughout all levels of the organization. The behaviors engendered by Senior Leadership serve as the symbols of the new and evolving culture.

Photo taken by Stephen D. Sylvester
Photo taken by Stephen D. Sylvester | Source

Some of the items that support a learning and adaptable organization are that strategic thinking, leadership, innovation, and the identification of problems, are emphasized. Storytelling about successful problem solving are shared throughout the organization and mechanisms for upward communication are developed and leveraged. Leaders give and accept feedback as part of the learning organization and assist individuals within the organization to give and accept feedback too. Leaders are willing to have the process challenged, to model the way, to inspire a shared and clear vision, to enable individuals to take action by removing barriers, and encourage the employees along the way.

To foster the learning and adaptable organization, new skills are introduced into the daily practices of the organization (ex. Learn Six Sigma, Change, Continuous improvement, etc.). The concept of waiting for organizational problems to surface is a contraindication to a transformative, continuously learning and adaptable leader. To ensure the survival of the organization, organizations need managers and employees who are able to adapt to rapid changes in the market and adapt or adjust to new ways of doing things and leveraging new technology. Being focused on improving the customer connection and solving their problems is considered a critical if not vital focus. It helps to drive the strategy of the organization and the selection and prioritization of projects and the implementation of new technologies. In being change agents, leaders and employees alike need to focus on searching out and evaluating the next needed change(s), innovating the change implementation, and monitoring its success.

The bottom line is that a learning organization is made up of adaptive leaders who lead the way in the transformative changes that the organization needs to make in order to be successful today and in the near future. The answer for many organizations is to grow your own leaders to be adaptive change agents.


Schein, E.H. (1995). Leadership and Organizational Culture. In F. Hesselbein et al. The Leader of the Future. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Senger, P.M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday.

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