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Learn by Example

One of the specific and practical things you can do to build a culture of mental models is to get the entire leadership team to assume another as leaders of learning. The CEO must also serve as a Chief Learning Officer (CLO). This dual role is required not just of CEOs but of any leader across the organization. If managers make learning a priority, others will see it as a priority, too. Effective leaders are skilled “lead learners” adroit at inculcating culture (facilitating shared understanding of key mental models).

The best chef (the executive chef or CEO) in a Michelin -starred restaurant often doesn’t do any of the cooking. Seems like a paradox, right? If she’s not cooking, what is she doing? She’s standing at “the pass,” expediting, prioritizing, and communicating orders as they come in; exercising quality control by ensuring that the fish isn’t overcooked, the side dish is ample, and the final plating of the dish is aesthetically pleasing. She monitors plates as they are being bussed and returned—are they clean or barely touched? Are they returned with a complaint? Finally, the executive chef ’s most important job is to ensure the sous, meat, sides, and pastry chefs learn. She knows that the safety of her Michelin stars rests not on her own ability to cook, but on her team’s ability to meet her exacting standards. When leaders focus on learning, they communicate that it's an organizational priority and build and incentivize a culture of learning.

Work-for-Gordon-Ramsay-in-virtual-Hell-s-Kitchen_wrbm_largeGordon Ramsey expediting the kitchen in Hell's Kitchen.

Figure out what the pass looks like in your organization (we’ve seen some cool ones!) and lead from it. It need not be a physical pass, like in a restaurant, but it does require analogous functionality.

Screen Shot 2020-09-12 at 3.07.05 PMFigure 5.6: Leaders of organizational learning lead from the pass

Organizational learning involves everyone in the organization, but the spark for it must come from leaders (formal and informal) at all levels of the organization.

Otherwise, employees will see it as an unnecessary and temporary initiative that they can “ride out.”

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