The science that has indeed become our field has grown in
acceptance. There is no disputing that. As a result of Peter
Senge's now classic argument around the "learning organization" or
GE's sagacious and decades-long investment in the John F. Welch
Leadership Center at Crotonville, chief learning officers now fill
many C-level offices.
And perhaps because of our own improved ability to show the return
on-investment in learning, the value of learning and development
(L&D) has never been greater. Moreover, L&D's stoic
response to the current recession is encouraging because, according
to the ASTD 2009 State of the Industry Report, average learning
expenditure as a percentage of payroll has actually increased.
There is also evidence that our confidence as an industry has
recovered - in the second quarter of 2010 the Learning Executive
Confidence Index reached "its highest value to date."
But with that increased value comes great expectations. To sustain
the newly acquired cachet and influence on organizations in this
new decade, learning leaders need to rise to the challenge in a
sustained manner or risk tumbling backwards to be merely an adjunct
of HR departments or be relegated as "nice-to-have" but not
integral to building organization capability.
Learning leaders must model the same competence and capability they
teach their fellow employees and executives. Yes, the standards are
different for them, and they are higher. Parents can't yell at
their children to stop yelling any more than learning leaders can
demand excellence from colleagues and not be excellent themselves.
Learning leaders can and should continue to be the L&D experts,
and lift organizations through their ability to grow individual and
group capacity. But to keep L&D at the table, more is indeed
required. Each training manager, director, vice president, or CLO
must be a leader, manifesting qualities in parallel with their
L&D pedigree. And this shouldn't just happen by accident or
happenstance any more than learning should. Learning leaders have
to enact a simple, uncomplicated plan and then put it into action.
Broaden your knowledge base
At a certain level, learning leaders must have the ability to think
beyond training. They are expected to respond to organizational
challenges with the bent toward learning, but their real value will
be when they don't respond as a trainer. Their response should be
cogent and value-added - when they don't go back to the same well,
but offer a fresh business approach that may suggest a new paradigm
or is integrated with other disciplines - such as marketing,
finance, or operations; they are not responding for those
disciplines but in concert with them.
"We require business savvy," explains Roger Turnquist, the founder
of Leadership and Learning Partners. "Really understanding all
there is to know about actually running a business unit, about
learning and the various technical and nontechnical options, and of
course, about people and the key business drivers. L&D must be
very smart about the business side and the people side of the
If learning leaders are successful in developing their knowledge
outside of their natural expertise, they will organically increase
the value and credibility of that expertise. A rising tide, as they
say, lifts all boats. This does not require abdication of their
role as learning leaders but augmentation of it. Of course, this
will also go far toward influencing C-level decision makers about
their own departmental objectives. When asked to explain the
business reason for that new learning program, linking the program
to key business drivers will be that much easier to do and to
Integrity is perhaps the cornerstone of leadership competence, no
matter the role, department, or industry. When we have difficult
decisions to make or are challenged and need to come out swinging,
our response must come from a safe and reliable place. "We lead
from who we are," Kevin Cashman writes in Leadership From the
Inside Out. Working to lead with a solid, core level of integrity
assures that our responses will almost always be, if not the right
ones, at least responses that we can live with. This competency is
no different for learning leaders than for any other leader and is
critical to being seen by others as worthy of following.
"A learning leader must be authentic - consistently demonstrating
integrity and congruency with conversations, commitments, and
intentions," explains Theresa McDaniel, director of training and OD
at Sinai Health System in Chicago. "Authentic leaders demonstrate
honesty, hold others accountable for acting with fairness and
respect, and coach others to do the same. It is the role of a
learning leader to build and support environments where open and
honest relationships and an organization's community can thrive."
Learning leaders who act on integrity do so with the intention of
seeing reality as reality is, no matter how unattractive. And
unique to the learning leader, Turnquist suggests, "I'd also add
integrity as a key competency. Because to be successful, you have
to know what's not working to be able to help fix the problem and
that means you must be trusted to use this information in a
professional way. If not trusted, you won't have the key
information you need to identify solutions and priorities."
Integrity garners trust, which begets honest information and
accurate data. Only through valid data can good choices emerge.
Model the right behavior
When Mahatma Gandhi suggested that we should "be the change we want
to see in the world," he was referring to the global community. If
learning leaders want their organizations to change more, learn
more, develop people more, and rely on evidence over conjecture
more, they have to engage this same concept; it must begin with
"Learning leaders must live and breathe continuous improvement,"
says Cathy Gallagher, director of IT organizational change
management at Kellogg Company. "We must be very good models and
coaches." As obvious as it sounds, we must lead the way.
A hunger for learning won't hurt, but supporting the learning of
others while seeking "teachable moments" must be part of our creed.
A manager without credibility won't last long, but a learning
leader without it is history. It's not a "do as I say, not as I do"
opportunity. But to be not only effective but credible, learning
leaders must act congruently with the advice they dispensed in last
week's workshop or yesterday's coaching session.
With greater influence comes greater responsibility. Learning
leaders are closer to their collective goal of unquestioned
influence, but they can slip out of favor like a newly elected
politician who didn't sustain value once given a real place of
power. We're close but not there yet. Because our influence is so
new and therefore tenuous, our sustainability is much like the
Gandhi sagacity offered earlier: It is up to us - not them.