Leadership Is About Learning And Inclusion
In the realm of leadership studies the term inclusion has been used so much that it has lost its meaning. What was once meant to indicate something very specific in a relationship has evolved into a blanket statement that encompasses every situation. Leadership is about learning and inclusion. There are no more exceptions to this rule. The old notion that a leader must know all there is to know about the workings of the organization he heads does not apply anymore.
We have reached a point in time when most organizations can be described as learning institutions. We have a new generation of leaders who are coming to the profession with limited professional experience. These leaders exhibit traits that suggest they do not understand the dynamics of most organizational situations. They lack the inclusive attitude that successful leaders have. They also come from relatively poor places (and in some cases, not even from the right communities). All this is not unusual for any group of people who are striving for personal growth.
A leader who lacks learning ability will have difficulty inspiring and motivating his followers. He will likely fail at his task because he will lack the ability to communicate the message effectively to his followers. He may succeed in getting their attention by other means - but not in the way that he would like. Most leaders learn by osmosis.
Learning can occur in various ways. Some people learn by doing, some by seeing, and others by listening. The latter two methods encourage selective, directed learning, which is learning in the context of a given situation. (That is, what a person learns is shaped by how he learns it - on the particular task at hand).
Learning cannot occur without an inclusive framework. This framework should include a clear understanding of human nature, interpersonal relationships and dynamics. It also needs to take into account the fact that learning cannot be a one-time event. It occurs constantly, and it is the product of consistent effort on the part of all members of a learning team.
Learning requires leaders to develop their learning strategies. Effective leaders realize that learning is not a one-time opportunity. Rather, it is a process that continually requires adjustment as life circumstances alter. Developing and maintaining an inclusive framework is a necessary part of learning in any environment.
Many people erroneously believe that their learning requires the isolation of those who do not share their perspective. While learning requires a diverse set of perspectives, it does not require exclusivity. All views are valuable and relevant. The problem arises when individuals try to claim exclusivity for their perspective even when the perspective does not meet all of their criteria.
Learning is a process that entails accepting and taking responsibility for learning from others. It is a collective effort that builds on individual knowledge and encourages others to share in the learning. Effective leadership requires leaders to learn and embrace learning.
Inclusion is the concept that people must be included in order for any learning opportunities to be fully meaningful. A group or an individual may have the best ideas, but if they are not shared, the learning will be less meaningful. Learning is not possible if individuals feel excluded from the process. Learning is also not possible if leaders exclude those who do not align with their point of view.
There is a need for inclusive learning. I call this a learning culture. Leaders need to create an inclusive learning environment. This includes providing opportunities for sharing, challenging discussions, permitting different points of view and giving everyone the chance to speak. Inclusive learning is the foundation of effective learning.
In order to achieve an inclusive learning atmosphere, every member of the team must be included. Leaders should encourage discussions and discourage silence. Silence can be a form of reinforcement for those who would like to continue doing what they are doing even if the majority of the team is not interested or invested in the conversation. If there is to be any learning, it has to happen among all members.
I believe that every leader has a responsibility to create an inclusive learning opportunity for his/her team. Every leader should be committed to maintaining a learning culture by encouraging and making available the resources necessary for continuous learning. A leader who fails to do so leaves his/her organization wide open to a host of negative influences. Leaders must realize that leadership is more than just a process of creating the latest strategy or new program. It is a commitment to create learning opportunities and to ensure that the learning opportunities created are ones that will sustain the learning of the entire team.