In this post I explore the intersection of learner-centered leadership and exponential times, looking to leaders outside of the field of education and placing this new learning in the context of an exponentially changing world.
- Leaders are always learners.
- There is no one way to be a learner-centered leader.
- Learner-centered leaders see and engage with everyone in the organization as a learner and a leader.
- The transformation of learning and leadership – from school-centered to learner-centered – has agency at its core.
Since sharing those principles, I ran across a three-part series from Peter Diamandis titled Leadership During Exponential Times (Pt. 1, 2 and 3). In the series, Peter interviews three female CEOs – Beth Comstock (Vice Chairman of GE), Sue Siegal (CEO of GE Ventures) and Ariana Huffington (Founder of Huffington Post and CEO of Thrive Global). As I read the three interviews, I couldn’t help but make connections to learner-centered leadership. The interviews also compelled me to think about the idea of exponential times and how the concept is reflected in education.
Exponential Times and Education
Diamandis characterizes exponential times this way: “It’s what’s really causing disruptive stress because as humans we think linearly, but the world is changing exponentially.” Our challenge as leaders is that we are constrained in a linear thinking system which is embedded in a time of exponential change. What are some of the stress points of an exponential world pushing on the linear thinking education system?
- Abundance – We are leading learning at a time when the sum of human knowledge is available through a connected device. How does our conception of learning change in an era of information abundance (and a time where the amount of information is growing exponentially)? How does a new conception about learning align with research?
- Amplification – Technologies continue to emerge and advance at an exponential rate. Everyday, we learn more and more how artificial intelligence (AI), virtual reality (VR), robotics, and the like are impacting our world, economy and jobs. (I explored these technologies and their impact in Episode 002 of the #FutureLearning Podcast.) How will educators work alongside new technologies? How will technologies help us do better work as educators? But most importantly, are we preparing our learners with the essential knowledge, skills and dispositions to succeed in a world transformed by these technologies?
- Agility – Educational leadership today requires skills to be applied in a wide variety of areas: instructional leadership, public leadership, organizational leadership and evidence-based leadership. The complexity of the job of leading a school or district is also growing exponentially. How will leadership be disrupted (for the better) by an exponential world?
Bringing learner-centered leadership and exponential times together
What connections can we make between how the leaders Diamandis interviewed and learner-centered leadership in exponential times? Here are just three, so be sure to read the full interviews to explore further connections (Leadership During Exponential Times, Pt. 1, 2 and 3):
Empower Individuals (Beth Comstock) “Build a team of people who are prepared for change and empower them to do great work. The questions is: how do you get people to get excited to grab power and go for it? More autonomy.”
Agency is at the core of learner-centered. Learners/leaders – young and old – in an organization exhibit agency when they are given autonomy. Simply put, autonomy leads to agency. How do leaders create the conditions that give learners/leaders autonomy? Will these conditions differ from person to person? There is also another idea implied in Comstock’s comment: mindset (learners exhibit a growth mindset). The “team” needs to be prepared for change. This is a mindset, and leaders will need to establish a culture for a change mindset to flourish. The best way to do this? Everyone understands the “why” of the change.
You can’t delegate culture (Sue Siegel) “This is absolutely critical for exponential leaders. Culture can make or break a company, and therefore it (a) must be very high on a leader’s list of priorities and (b) must come from the top. Leaders can’t delegate culture. Leaders are the culture bearers, the torchkeepers of culture in our companies. They might have change agents, or those that actually help them amplify their culture, but the leader cannot delegate culture. This is a truth that a lot of us forget because we’re so busy. Employees and teams really want to see it from their leaders. They want to hear the talk, they want to watch them walk the talk, all the time. Interestingly, while leaders cannot delegate culture creation, they can delegate culture keeping.”
I use to think the idea of “culture” was overused in the leadership conversation. And I think the way that it is typically approached ignores the nuances of creating culture. A learner-centered leader (like a teacher creating opportunities for learners to personalize learning), has to create the space for the learner/leader to both learn and lead. Creating this space is a highly complex task, though, because the leader needs to understand the people first. What are their needs, strengths and passions, and how will the leader create an environment that invites other learners/leaders to experience autonomy and be inspired by their own sense of agency?
Do entry interviews. (Arianna Huffington) ““Right now, everybody does exit interviews. How about doing entry interviews and asking people what they need to feel balanced? Ask your team proactively how to improve the environment in which they work. The return on this simple question can be extraordinary.”
This reminds me of the personal learning profiles promoted in personalized learning circles. Entry interviews are an excellent idea to understand employees, develop relationships and gather data to make the best leadership decisions that build culture, promote autonomy and lead to agency.
Will shifting to a learner-centered paradigm increase the ability of leaders to thrive in exponential times? The stress of exponential times may provide the lever for disruption and a compelling reason for shifting mindsets from a traditional school-centered paradigm to a new learner-centered paradigm.
What can we learn about learner-centered leadership from leaders outside education? How does the learning help us understand leadership in the context of exponential times?
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