As cruel and counter-intuitive as it is for me, as a lifelong teacher and educator, to admonish them … you just shouldn’t believe everything you learned in school. Further, you shouldn’t even believe everything you learned about learning in school.
Our education system is now so cumbersome and laden with irrelevant outcomes, standards and test scores that it has forgotten what makes learning worthwhile. In actuality, it’s about how well our teachers leverage connections between people for creativity and performance. It’s about remembering that the power of both a good teacher and a bad teacher is immense and impacts students for an eternity.
As an educator, I’m angry that teachers everywhere have forgotten the importance of their connection with their students. I’m angry that we’ve somehow conditioned even the great ones to think it’s all about getting through the curriculum and teaching subjects, more than it is about teaching kids.
I’m also angry that in the wider world of business and organisational leadership, we have come to think that this is how education is done best. It isn’t. There’s a much better way.
Rather, we should be considering the leadership of learning as the world’s most potent transformative and connective force. It runs like a river through any organisation willing to open its floodgates. It takes people places.
As a leader with any inclination for the business benefits of becoming a learning organisation, your role then becomes about building connections with people so that they trust you enough to hold your hand and dive into that stream.
Leading learning is about seeing education not as something to be delivered, but as something to swim in. The moment we treat education as a commodity to be delivered, as a mere transactional arrangement where I pay $1000 for a one-day workshop and you hand me a certificate of participation, we make unhelpful assumptions.
We assume that the certificate, in some magical way, changes something about us or about the ways we work. We think that learning is really only an efficient way to transfer knowledge and that education is something to be endured rather than enjoyed.
Enough of that. Learning should be inspiring and difficult. It should be creative and thought-provoking. It should be confronting and incomplete. It should be messy and peppered with infinite possible outcomes. It should expand potentials for its participants and never limit them.
Being a former Principal, I’m rather into rules. So, here’s three rules to guide you on your quest to become an intentional leader of learning.
Rule No1 – Protect your organisation from non-educators.
Gurus with hilarious anecdotes, professionally produced slide decks and online learning platforms are selling you quantitative way to deliver education and assumes that learning occurred when they’ve put on their show. Instead, see education as qualitative and refuse to let any consultant work with your team who can’t tell you explicitly what your team members will learn, do and be once they are done with them
Rule No2 – Get good at learning … collectively.
When we remove the personal connection from learning, we remove its speed and its depth. Arie de Geus, the author of the acclaimed book The Living Company, wrote that the ability to learn faster than competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. And he’d be right.
Rule No3 – Learning is a force for transformation.
It’s what changes that counts when it comes to a great learning experience and not the collation of the feedback form revealing merely how much participants enjoyed the session. Remember, great learning is always a little risky and uncomfortable – that’s what makes it so intoxicating.
Think about what changed in your life when you learned to tie your shoelaces, learned to drive a car, learned to use a computer, learned to apologise or learned how to impress in a job interview.
Now think about what changes in your business if every team member learns something new and useful.
Learning is the fuel of bravery and discovery. It’s what you need when you stand on the edge of a river gripping the hand of someone you trust, and counting backwards from three. Are you yet the leader whose hand they’d grasp?