Deepening the Capacity to Lead: Part 2

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A Learning Organization

by Kelly Papa, MSN, RN,
Corporate Director of Learning,
Masonicare University

Last week, we explored the practice of appreciative inquiry as a means of deepening the capacity to lead in long term care. This week, we will continue the exploration looking at the leadership practices in a learning organization.

When I was a teenager, I used to play ice hockey. The ice rink where we practiced was the same one that the Hartford Whalers, Connecticut’s NHL team at the time, practiced at daily. As a young adult, I was impressed with the dedication of the players. They seemed to be on the ice all day, every day, practicing. Then the players had a game two or three times a week for a few hours. It was during their games that the hours of practice they had put in paid off.

In long-term care we tend to be in the game a majority of time, with only the occasional day or in-service time to pull back and practice. Imagine what long-term care organizations’ culture could feel like if we had more time to practice building the skills that strengthen and deepen our capacity to lead. According to Peter Senge, author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, a team that is constantly learning and growing together is called a learning organization.

Building a Learning Organization
Have you ever wondered why some organizations are more adaptable to change than others? Have you ever been on a team in which you experienced a culture of shared responsibility for leadership and learning, with the potential for learning and growing developed in every team member? Expanded possibilities for culture change exist when a culture of shared learning is naturally embedded into the fabric of an organization.

Peter Senge studied organizations and teams that thrived during challenging times, teams that achieved extraordinary results despite the odds stacked against them. He shares that, in these teams, each member is practicing five disciplines.

  • Personal Mastery
  • Shared Vision
  • Mental Models
  • Team Learning
  • Systems Thinking

Applying the disciplines of a learning organization creates a culture of learning in which team members are constantly adapting, learning, and recreating themselves to be effective and meet the needs of those they serve. Consider how the disciplines of a learning organization, when applied consistently, would create the synergy needed for culture change initiatives. For example, in the team learning discipline, offering interdisciplinary teams the time to learn together gives these teams the opportunities to hear each other’s perspectives. This is a valuable time to ask questions to help staff challenge their assumptions and see around corners. It is similar to sports teams-there is a time when the goalies have to practice together, but they will learn more when they are practicing with the players from other positions.

Leadership is more than a title
Being a leader means intentionally aligning your actions and values to engage others and achieve shared goals. Being a leader also means that you are a student, a steward and a designer of the systems staff and elders live and work in. As leaders, we must be aware of the purpose and meaning of our leadership so that we can achieve strategic visions and make informed decisions. We must learn and practice new ways of being present with others though building habits in communicating and listening. There are countless resources for leaders looking to read about or attend training to enhance their personal leadership abilities. While navigating these leadership resources you may find that some theories, or frameworks resonate with you while others do not. Leadership is a never ending journey of learning and discovery of your authentic leadership voice.