A learning organization is one that is capable of creating, acquiring and transferring knowledge, as well as modifying its behavior in response to new insights and knowledge. Organization with learning culture promote continuous learning and believe that each other will be influenced by the systems. Continuous learning provides opportunities for organizations to continuously improve as it provides the opportunities for the individual’s performance improvement.
Peter Senge (1990) defines learning organization in his book “The Fifth Discipline” as an organization where people continually to enhance their capability to make the results they truly desire, foster fresh and extensive thinking models, freeing collective aspiration, and encourage people continuously to learn to see the whole together. In 2006, Senge examined the five ‘disciplines’ (Figure 1) from his initial formulation of learning organizations: system thinking – exploration of whole instead of individual part, personal mastery – the form of personal learning and self-development, managing mental model – a cognitive model of learning and system change, building a shared vision – establishing a purpose with common sense, and team learning – creating a new form of shared knowledge and learning.
From the various definitions of learning organization from figure 2, the learning organization can be defined as a constantly transforming organization that employ learning to gain a competitive advantage.
Google excels at becoming a role model for organizational learning culture (Forbes, 2019). Their employees can flexibly set their own work schedules to maximize work efficiency and creativity. Employees are composed of talents in various technical fields; thus, everyone can learn from and work with each other. This mindset of growth, and collaboration opportunities will lead employees to continuously improve themselves and the company.
Transformational and Spiritual Leadership in Learning Organization
It is never easy to build a high performance, value-added learning organization with all the necessary foundations, infrastructure, and leadership support. Leadership is important in a learning organization because it is called upon to handle both internal and external changes (Cotae, 2010).
It is worth noting that the leadership and organizational learning has been quantitatively studied in variety of countries and industries, among the empirical articles reviewed, transformational leadership is still the most widely used style (Do and Mai, 2020), transformational leadership empowers people with collaborative learning and feedback loops, which is particularly applicable when transitioning from a resource-based company to a knowledge-based organization (Dimmock and Walker, 2005)
As the emphasis of learning organization is on the participation of members, it is more compatible with spiritual leadership compared to other organizational styles, like multidivisional styles that lean to more commanding and controlling leadership type. Spiritual leadership, accordingly to Louis Fry (2003), is necessary for learning organization to thrive. The spiritual leaders not only participate in organizational changes, they also continue to lead by example and seek self-improvement. In order to assess the performance of leaders and team members, the spiritual leaders make use tools like 360-degree feedback to staff.
The Oaks Group at JP Morgan’s managing director, Barry Garapedian, is a role model for spiritual leaders in leading learning organizations. He is known for emphasizing the overall objectives and employees’ development, encouraging employees to spend some time building relationships, physical and mental health, and engaging in wealth management business. Barry Garapedian and his partner Seth Haye are among the world top financial managers and have established consistently high ratings in employee satisfaction, customer trust, employee commitment, wealth creation and community service. Spiritual leaders like Barry Garapedian, applying the elements of learning organization to achieve outstanding organizational performance and altruistic goals.
Taking another example, you might put a blue-and-yellow bottle of WD-40 in the garage or under the kitchen sink, but you don’t have to think about the company that produces it. The company’s CEO, Garry Ridge, is firmly committed to learning, and requires all employees to make a commitment:
Ridge sets an example of great leadership to facilitate learning organization as he requires employees to ask questions, to innovate, to cooperate with one another, to take risk and to be unafraid of failure.
In my reflection, learning is an intimate and stressful process, but when it is promoted and honored, learning is powerful. It can be applied into all aspects of the organizational systems, procedures and people. It may be experimenting with a new content management system, like my company did when Salesforce was implemented. From the real working environment, I recognize that the initiating and sustaining the significant change necessitates a variety of leadership styles, the leaders in learning organizations are designers, teachers and stewards. All in all, a learning organization requires leadership capable of empowering workers in the ever-changing era and fostering a learning culture that permeates the organization with a shared vision for the better performance (Garcia et al., 2012).
Bunea, A., Dinu, G. and Popescu, D. M. (2016) ‘Organizational Learning versus the Learning Organization – Emerging Concepts Enhancing the Leadership Role’, Valahian Journal of Economic Studies, 7(4), pp. 57–64. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,sso&db=bth&AN=124330041&site=ehost-live (Accessed: 29 April 2021).
Cotae, F.-F. (2010) ‘Looking at the Link between Leadership, Organizational Learning and the Internationalization Sigmoid’, Global Management Journal, 2(1), pp. 5–18. Available at: http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,sso&db=bth&AN=51300689&site=ehost-live (Accessed: 29 April 2021).
Dimmock, C. and Walker, A. (2005), Educational Leadership: Culture and Diversity, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA. (Accessed: 29 April 2021).
Do, T.T. and Mai, N.K. (2020) “Review of empirical research on leadership and organizational learning”, Journal of Knowledge Management, Vol. 24 No. 5, pp. 1201-1220. https://doi.org/10.1108/JKM-01-2020-0046. (Accessed: 28 April 2021).
Forbes. (2018). Council Post: 13 Reasons Google Deserves Its ‘Best Company Culture’ Award. [online] Forbes. Available at: <https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2018/02/08/13-reasons-google-deserves-its-best-company-culture-award/?sh=70c606a43482> (Accessed: 30 April 2021).
Fry, L. (2003). “Toward a Theory of Spiritual Leadership.” The Leadership Quarterly, 16, 693-727. (Accessed: 29 April 2021).
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Senge, P. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning. New York, NY: Doubleday. (Accessed: 30 April 2021).
Senge P (2006) The fifth discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, 2nd edn. Century, London. (Accessed: 29 April 2021).
WD-40 Company. (2021). Tribal Culture – WD-40 Company. [online] Available at: <https://wd40company.com/our-tribe/tribal-culture/> (Accessed: 29 April 2021).