Learn by Example
Derek & Laura Cabrera
Derek Cabrera (Ph.D., Cornell) is an internationally known systems scientist and serves on the faculty of Cornell University where he teaches systems thinking, systems leadership, and systems mapping and is Program Director for the Graduate Certification Program in Systems Thinking, Modeling, and Leadership (STML). He is a senior scientist at Cabrera Research Lab. Laura Cabrera (B.S., M.P.A, & PhD, Cornell) currently teaches Systems Thinking and Modeling and Systems Leadership at Cornell University at the Institute for Policy Affairs. She is also a senior researcher at the Cabrera Research Lab. Over the past decade, Cabrera has applied her expertise in research methods and translational research to increase public understanding, practical application, and dissemination of sophisticated systems science and systems thinking models.
More posts by Derek & Laura Cabrera
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.
Gordon 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.
Figure 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.”