I’m not a great believer in leadership training, even though it’s very much the trend. But the fact that such training exists means that there is a problem to be solved. I notice that some of the manuals like to quote the 10 leadership principles of Jack Welch. I’ve copied below the first five:
1. There is only one way - the straight way. It sets the tone of the organisation.
2. Be open to the best of what everyone, everywhere, has to offer; transfer learning across your organisation.
3. Get the right people in the right jobs - it is more important than developing a strategy.
4. An informal atmosphere is a competitive advantage.
5. Make sure everybody counts and everybody knows they count.
Three of them I find vitally interesting for the rethinking of learning. Forget the first, which is there as a kind of shocker, asserting the authority of the leader (what better way to say “I’m Jack Welch, shut up and listen”?). If I wanted to quibble, I’d say that just as there’s no such thing as a free lunch, there’s no such thing as a straight way. All viable ways follow the relief of the land and are therefore not straight, but rather as straight as possible or as straight as management can make them… which means that professional life doesn’t end up looking like a series of right angles.
It starts getting interesting with number 2. Learning is as close to the top as you can get (once you get the phantom straight line out of the way). And notice what it says: learning is everywhere. It doesn’t come from trainers and SMEs. Everyone’s involved. And the need is to transfer, not to teach.
Skip to point 4. What do we find? A celebration of informality, not as a method of learning (who in the organization really cares about learning besides Jack Welch?*) but as a factor of competitive advantage! Put 2 and 4 together and we begin to see how learning organizations may develop.
Point 5 is equally important. How do people show they count and know they count for others? I don’t think Welch is talking about pay packages and brownie points. It’s rather that their voice is heard because they have something to contribute and a forum for making it heard. That forum is the ongoing informal dialogue of an organization where “everyone, everywhere” has something “to offer”. Maybe we should be concentrating on giving shape to that forum by encouraging communities where the dialogue is real and authentic, not polluted by too many "learning points".
Anyway, it's a great honor to welcome Jack Welch to the exclusive club of promoters of informal learning. He deserves to be one of us!
* To answer my own question, I’d say “nobody except the CEO” because everyone else, including the CLO, has a job to do and they all know the criteria on which they will be judged. And it ain’t learning – which is oriented towards the future -- but keeping the machinery going with as few hiccups as possible – which means having one's eye fixed on the present and quarterly results. Having worked closely with a direct disciple of Jack Welch, I know how focused those objectives are.