3.3.4 Organization: Learning Leadership

For developing, implementing and maintaining a culture of learning, Learning Leadership is crucial. 

For this we use the metaphor of the Learning Leader as gardener. Middle management, being responsible for developing, implementing and maintaining a meaningful working- and learning environment for their teams. 

The text above can be read in the introduction. It is one of the four metaphors we use. To develop a culture of learning in an organization, LEADERSHIP IS KEY! With middle/line management in a unique position to make or break the concept.

To illustrate this its good to see the next video of Simon Sinek.

Organizational learning

==> step 3 Change from Within

The third step in your route to a (more) Learning Culture is via Learning Leadership. In this chapter you can read how to do that (for more information see the SOL NL website).

The vision of Simon Sinek on leadership (see video) is confirmed by Josh Bersin. Specialist in the field of developing a Learning Culture.  

Bersin's research (interviews and surveys in 40.000 organizations) has given great insight in how to develop a Learning Culture and the role of line management. "A culture is created by, reinforced by, and often destroyed by leaders.  Among the 40 high-impact practices we found, we estimate that 8 are owned by top leadership, 25 are owned by line management, and only 7 can be owned by HR or L&D.  In your efforts to change culture, you must work with leaders at all levels – and often help them question what they do and how they work."

The Problem:

How do you develop a Learning Culture? Where to start? Everything in the organization is connected and this makes it complicated to make the right decisions. 

The SOLution:

Whatever you do and wherever you start, leadership plays a key role in developing, implementing and maintaining a (more) Learning Culture in your organization.

SOL_logo_RGB_geel_transparant _ Stichting Organisatie Leren

The SOLution

It's good to mention we think/know there is no one best solution to develop, implement and maintain a (more) Learning Culture in your organization. You have to find your own solution, based on your own insights, context, support etc.

With SOL, based on our knowledge and experience, we have developed our own SOLution. Several tools, development programs, conSOLtancy etc. focused on developing a (more) Learing Culture. Use this as an inspiration or input for your own learning journey.

Learning Leadership

As SOL we developed a LEARNING LEADERSHIP program. For the creation of a learning culture, you as a leader should focus on three aspects; “Mindset, skillset and toolset”. In this Learning Journey a short introduction.


 Two mindsets stand out that can serve as particularly powerful fuel for anyone who is consciously involved in his or her own learning process:

  • A growth mindset: the thought that you can grow, expand, evolve and change. Intelligence and ability are not fixed points, but instead traits that you cultivate.
  • Curiosity is awareness, openness to ideas and the ability to make connections between diverse concepts.


Talents are our innate abilities, what we do without even thinking about it and what we enjoy doing. Which comes naturally to us, such as an inner urge to strive for the maximum result, sensitivity to the needs of others or the tendency to do everything to keep an appointment. We take our most powerful talents often for granted and may not be fully aware of it consciously.

When we consciously apply our talents, this gives us confidence, we become happier, more confident, more energetic and we will achieve our goals more easily and with more pleasure.


A specialist in the field of Learning Culture is Josh Bersin. With his team he did an extensive survey in 2010. The results of this survey can be found in an interesting presentation.

He found 6 building blocks to be accountable for the development of a learning culture:

Stichting Organisatie Leren - SOL - Bersin
  1. Building Trust: One of the most important “building blocks” for the creation of a learning culture is building trust. The moment you, as a leader, succeed in creating a trust worthy environment, the non-negotiable can be discussed, the invisible becomes visible and there is room for making mistakes.
  2. Empowering Employees: Another important building block is empowering employees. To create intrinsic motivated staff you need purpose (meaningful jobs), mastery (within one’s capabilities) and autonomy (the feeling of control).
  3. Demonstrate Learning’s Value: It is important that “valuing learning” is given a prominent place within the organization. This can be done, for example, by working with learning objectives in addition to formulating performance goals
  4. Encouraging Reflections: There is no learning without reflection. It is therefore important that time is regularly set aside for reflection in the work. Practice shows that this is not automatic. What helps is to build this as fixed moments in, for example, regular progress meetings, peer2peer meetings, team meetings or project meetings.
  5. Formalizing Learning as a Process: This is about realizing that learning is not a one-time period (school / university) but a continuous ongoing process. There is a lot of talk about the Lifelong Development Principle. With a Learning Culture you automatically achieve this principle.
  6. Enabling Knowledge Sharing: In order to function optimally as a team, it is important to learn from each other. This learning is promoted through the use of the right technology and tools. But it also helps if people within your team experience sufficient space / trust to want to share learning experiences with each other. Even if these are less pleasant experiences.

We as SOL added two more building blocks needed to create a learning culture:

  1. Learning Leadership: this is probably the most essential element in achieving a Learning Culture (that's what this chapter is all about). In our SOL NL Learning Leadership program we guide middle/line managers and supervisors during three months in this mindset, skillset and toolset development program. Supporting them to make the move from being "in charge" to taking care for those "in your charge".
  2. System Thinking: Systems thinking expands the range of choices available for solving a problem by broadening our thinking and helping us articulate problems in new and different ways. At the same time, the principles of systems thinking make us aware that there are no perfect solutions; the choices we make will have an impact on other parts of the system. By anticipating the impact of each trade-off, we can minimize its severity or even use it to our own advantage. Systems thinking therefore allows us to make informed choices.Systems thinking is also valuable for telling compelling stories that describe how a system works. For example, the practice of drawing causal loop diagrams forces a team to develop shared pictures, or stories, of a situation. The tools are effective vehicles for identifying, describing, and communicating your understanding of systems, particularly in groups (source).
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Power within

Learning Leadership

Sit with your team and listen

self-managed structure

Systemic tools

Mindset, Skillset & Toolset

Learning Leadership facilitation

  1. Power of Simplicity: As Sinek says: "Being a leader does not mean you have to be in charge. It's about taking care for those in your charge!" So, sit with your team, create a trustworthy environment, let them define the optimal working- and learning environment and ask what they need from you as their manager/supervisor.
  2. Power of Community: In a team it’s important for people to feel part of something bigger. People need to feel psychologically safe, that they are trusted, and that they trust the people around them, which allows them to bring their whole self to work and be exactly who they are, without fear. And we want to emphasize generosity—a willing­ness to be supportive of others, to be generous to our customers (source).
  3. Power of the System: As a manager/supervisor you can use a lot of the available systemic tools and interventions. Both for personal purposes (reflection / state of mind) as for your team or department (constellations / cause-effect / visuals).
  4. Power Within: For your own development as a manager / supervisor you have to focus on mindset, skillset and toolset. As SOL we have developed a 3-month development program, based on these concepts. For more information please check the SOL NL website.

Being a leader does not mean you have to be in charge. It's about taking care for those in your charge!

Simon Sinek 

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