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Learning directed leadership takes another approach. Leadership is not about coercing others to change but about helping others realize their own potential to learn. The Learning Advantage is the first approach to leadership based exclusively on the emerging international discipline of management learning and development. The book summarizes the best ideas on management learning into six easy-to-follow, yet complete practices of learning-directed leadership. The book will prove an invaluable tool for leaders interested in improving their own leadership ability and developing new leaders.

As the authors state, 'Our aim is pragmatic. In one study, pairs of individuals who had been in a relationship more than 3 months were better able to recall words than those who were not in these relationships. Over the last few years, however, the notion of transactive memory has been confirmed in dozens of studies in real-world settings.

The catheter safety program demonstrates transactive memory and its role in learning. Teams that demonstrate transactive memory share three characteristics.

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First, team members believe in the credibility of the information shared by other members. The catheter safety program appears to increase credibility because it provides a shared template, a common repository, and agreed-upon procedure for documenting knowledge. Essentially, the shared checklist replaces individual memory with a team memory. Credibility increases because the checklist serves as shared and likely more credible source of memory, so that memory is no longer assigned to the more fallible process of individual cognition.

Second, transactive memory involves effectively coordinating actions. The catheter safety program encourages coordination by helping a team establish a common set of procedures that guide action. The development, implementation, and integration of a checklist foster learning because coordination becomes an everyday practice, not an abstraction. Coordination leads to learning because it necessitates an agreed-upon procedure, standardizes routine processes, and creates a template for improving processes.

Third, the catheter safety program common checklist improves coordination among a group of specialized professionals. Organizations manage complexity by distributing labor.

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Nurses, physicians, and residents each perform a specific duty. This division of labor helps the organization but creates challenges for coordination. Learning occurs when team members understand, respect, and utilize the unique expertise of these diverse roles. Simply stated, people in close relationships perform better than anonymous individuals. The catheter safety program provides evidence that when learning becomes a daily practice, it improves performance. The checklist implementation process marks an important shift from institutionalizing organization-wide policies to allowing experienced professionals to exercise judgment.

For example, the development and implementation of a checklist is not abstract but part of the daily routine of professionals.

For sure, the implementation of the change required a coordinated effort at all levels of the organization, including strong support from management, but ultimately, the change occurred at the most direct levels of patient care, not policy. The program success results from the learning that occurs as professionals exercise autonomy and judgment unencumbered by overly burdensome institutional rules.

Improving professional judgment is an important part of learning. Vimla Patel developed a better understanding of how medical professionals make diagnoses. One early study Patel, Groen, and Frederiksen, helped establish the role of judgment in diagnosing illness. Patel and colleagues wanted to know if experienced physicians exercised better judgment than novices like medical residents. They found that more experienced physicians saw medical situations in a more holistic and complete way than did residents. In other words, physicians relied on a greater source of data, including patient histories and lifestyle data, to make a diagnosis.

The study shows how learning plays a key role in exercising professional judgment. Judgment, and its cousin learning, requires adapting, looking at a broad range of information, challenging and understanding context. It facilitates the breakdown of traditional organizational and professional hierarchies. Studies of numerous air tragedies and near misses have revealed that all too often dysfunctional power dynamics among the flight crews contributed to the disaster.

Overly authoritarian cockpit captains ignored the insights and warnings of copilots, leading to a crash or near miss. We address the issue of authoritarianism in more detail in Chapter 7 on team learning, but it deserves some mention here as well. The checklist serves to neutralize traditional forms of power such as rank or profession because authority no longer rests in the rank of individuals but in their knowledge, and this paves the way for learning. Each of these five processes underscores the importance of learning in improving organizational effectiveness.

The initial experiment for catheter safety has been adopted by other hospitals around the US. It stands as a remarkable example of learning in organizations. The first level is the learning that occurs from engaging in the process of building the procedure. This includes the learning from 1 background research and data collection, 2 conversations around the process, and 3 development of the procedure. The second level of learning occurs as an outcome of the continued engagement in the process itself.

To look at a successful program can tell us something important, but looking at an overt collapse of learning can tell us something else. Next we turn to the case of Lehman Brothers and the introduction of ignorance. Failure to learn at Lehman Brothers As one way to understand just how the catheter safety program invokes learning, we can contrast it with an organization that lacks learning.

Hope Greenfield , the former chief talent officer at the oncemighty global financial services firm, discussed the failure of Lehman in an article in Leader to Leader. Over years, Lehman grew into a rigid culture, where it enforced strict informal rules for behavior. During the mortgage crisis of , the managers at Lehman needed to assess and change their behavior and respond to the need for new direction. The culture did not change behaviors even when the company needed that change to survive. Lehman found itself plagued by widespread turnover, which resulted in continual loss of talent.

The constant turnover and loss of talent meant that professional judgment was constantly under threat. As Greenfield pointed out, managers who tried to exercise their professionalism found themselves sidelined and ostracized, and many eventually left the organization. As a result, the culture at Lehman restricted independent professional judgment in favor of rigid thinking. Learning ultimately became stifled. Team coordination, another hallmark of learning, is built on a foundation of credibility that allows individual team members the freedom to act.

It was seen as an honor in the organization that employees could work hard and be successful without having a degree from a prestigious university. However, this also created problems because competitive spirit often overshadowed level-headed thinking. The head of Lehman was bound for retirement, and his number two in command was not a likely successor. Although some competition can be a good thing, too much competition can lead to wasted resources, knowledge hording, and lack of cooperation.

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Eventually, problems go unaddressed because leaders lack the information and perspective necessary to overcome problems. Lehman Brothers had a strong belief of the firm as a family Greenfield, While this is generally a positive attribute—with, for example, the firm rushing to help when an employee faced an ill family member—too much of a family culture means that the hierarchy is rigid and unyielding in decision making. When the firm had only employees, having only a handful of people at the top making the key decisions may have worked, as these were the handful that Lehman believed really understood the business.

In fact, Greenfield recounted that the executive committee, formed to make all the decisions, continued to extend the tradition of a family firm.


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The executive committee briefly tried to expand its membership, involving more in the decision-making process, but this effort was short-lived and threatened those in power. The rigid culture at Lehman shows that when organizations fail to break down rigid hierarchies, learning and adaptation is its primary victim.

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Firms like Lehman, which continued to employ rigid decision-making methods despite the need to change and involve more constituents, will find their learning stifled. The contrast cannot be overstated: leaders who foster learning in organizations perform better, provide better work environments for employees, and stand a stronger chance of survival in the face of threats or challenges, as the next example confirms.


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Empirical studies of the value of learning in consulting firms Remember Geeta, the recent medical school graduate who sought to expand her career into consulting? She might notice that many of the learning principles at work in the most innovative hospitals also show up in the top consulting firms. As Geeta travels across professional fields, from medicine to consulting and back again, she might notice that learningdirected leadership plays an important role in organizational success.