Theories of Organizational Learning help us in understanding the need for being competitive in the changing and challenging world. The theories of organizational Learning especially help organizations to adapt to the changing environment. The role of the leader here becomes extremely important because the leader is the one who knows how to implement change, goes ahead, does it, and shows others how to do it.
In this essay, I shall discuss Organizational Learning theories in the context of the quote by John C. Maxwell. I will first introduced the quote and break it down to see what the speaker meant by it. While breaking down the quote, I shall explore the three ways – knowing, going and showing – shown by Maxwell. In doing so, I will utilize the Organizational Learning theories to validate the arguments. I will provide examples of leadership in the political and business context to prove the arguments.
The quote –
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way”
The quote was used by John Maxwell in one of his books titled The 21 irrefutable Laws of Leadership and since then, the quote has inspired many. The quote precisely explains the way a leader should be and is.
In my views, the quote is simple yet very powerful because it explores the previously ignored and undisclosed qualities of a leader. Previously, leadership qualities mostly focused on the leader as the possessor of vast knowledge and capabilities. The leader was the one who only knew how to inspire the followers and guide them. Maxwell argued that the leader is the one who walks the path himself and then inspires others to follow him. The quote can be viewed from different perspectives, the one being that it was meant to inspire common citizens to become leaders themselves in their daily lives. Other perspective could be that the speaker of the quote wanted to let people know that they have the ability to make people listen to and follow them.
We could explore the three ways of knowing, going and showing in a better way by using the organizational learning theories. Prior to discovering the three ways, we must first explore the theories of OL and establish an association between those and the three ways. The most common definition of OL theory, as I have found is that it is a course of developing, preserving and relocating knowledge within an organization. The OL theory also states that individual learning is the first or initial phase of OL and when the information learned by the individual is shared and stored, it becomes organizational learning (Noruzy et al. 2013). Theorists have developed several theories of OL over the years that included the experiential learning theory and assimilation theory.
Coming back to the three ways of knowing, going and showing, the three theories of OL concisely explain these. Experiential Learning theory comes under the cognitive category of OL and has four stages of learning. David Kolb was the proponent of this theory. As Kolb describes, the first stage is the concrete experience followed by the second stage, which is abstract conceptualization (Kolb 2014). The third and fourth stages are reflective observation and active experimentation respectively. While the first two stages constitute the acquisition of information, the last two stages form the transformation of experience. We could observe that two ways of knowing and going mentioned in the quote is explained through these stages. When the leader passes through these four stages, he receives vast knowledge through experience. After receiving the knowledge, the leader then analyses those and acts. The experience, reflection and thinking phase explain the knowing way while the acting upon those explains the going way as mentioned in the quote. However, many argue that OL theory especially experiential learning is not helpful for all and hence, does not clearly explain the three ways. As Radu Lefebvre and Redien?Collot (2013) point out, people with limited experience will not benefit from this type of learning. I contrast this view because I believe learning from the mistakes as explained by the theory is one of the best ways for knowing.
McCarthy (2016) on the other hand, supports the experiential learning arguing that it does not always give predictable outcomes. According to the author, the four stages of learning through experience are limited and do not clearly explain the attributes of the leader. I tend to disagree with the statement because although experiential learning theory is not all encompassing, it provides a solid ground from where we could proceed to higher levels of explorations. As Bower (2013) have argued, the theory has helped leaders from varied areas like sports, health, education and business has greatly assisted people to enhance their knowledge.
We shall now focus on exploring the showing way, as mentioned in the quote. The assimilation theory is the behavioral approach of OL theory according to which, learning is observable, rational and measurable (Duke, Harper and Johnston 2013). I feel the theory is apt for exploring the three ways particularly, showing. When the leader gains enough experience and learns through those experiences, he applies those practically in his own life. After applying the knowledge, the leader then examines if it worked or not. The assimilation theory, I feel is the next phase of experiential learning because it involves practical application. Zimmerman (2013), states that the assimilation learning theory enables students to develop their capability to become a leader. I find this observation intriguing and relative to one of the three ways, because it helps students become leaders by going the way. Agarkar and Brock (2017) supports the statement asserting that because of the behavioral or practical nature of this theory, it ensures quick acquisition and application of knowledge.
I have witnessed leaders who know, go and show the way in both personal and professional life. Apart from the renowned world leaders – political and business, many leaders I have come across who are not popular but possess equal capabilities. However, first I would discuss the leaders about who most of us know and see if they fit to Maxwell’s quote. Political leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., are some prime examples of leaders who have done all the three things (Jackson 2013). Mahatma Gandhi knew that non-violence is the most powerful way to win any battle; he adopted this in his own life, faced atrocities and suffered, but ultimately achieved his objective. He had shown the way to millions of people in India, which is visible from the mass protests against the British without violence. Martin Luther King Jr., similarly, was a great leader in the sense that he led the African-American Civil Right movement by inspiring people through his speeches. He knew that he had the ability to give powerful speeches and motivate people. The people even today follow his ideals and are inspired by his speeches.
In the world of business, examples of such leaders abound. In my view, those leaders who have helped their organizations rise from the slump could be considered great leaders. They have known the way, applied their OL and gone way and set examples for their employee that is, shown the way. Tim Cook (Apple Inc.), Indira Nooyi (PepsiCo) Warren Buffet, Marry Barra (General Motors) amongst others is great examples of such leaders (Forbes.com 2018).
In my real life, I have come across numerous people who have demonstrated great leadership qualities. In school, I had my teachers, particularly my principal, who I feel, led the school with example. Our school was not a very big school but the principal knew the ways to manage everything within limited budget and infrastructure. More than anything else, he had the capability to motivate the other teachers and the students. He did this by applying the knowledge he had gained through experience in school. One example that I can give is that he used to encourage students to share their books with others who could not afford those. These were something that he has a student had himself done. The idea inspired others and it became a trend in other schools as well.
In the end, I should reiterate that the quote by John Maxwell is inspiring and gives great boost to people who aspire to become leaders in the future. I have myself been motivated by the quote and believe that I too could be a leader. In this essay, I tried to analyze the quote by breaking it down into parts and then explain it. While exploring the three ways mentioned in the quote, I delved upon the theories of Organizational Learning (OL) and found that OL is an apt theory to explore the ways. I say this because as I researched through the theory, I found that the two theories I researched – experiential learning and assimilation theory – clearly explain what knowing, going and showing the way means. I also provided various examples of leaderships in political, business and societal context to substantiate my argument in favor of OL theories explaining the three ways.
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Jackson, T.F., 2013. From civil rights to human rights: Martin Luther King, Jr., and the struggle for economic justice. University of Pennsylvania Press.
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McCarthy, M., 2016. Experiential learning theory: From theory to practice. Journal of Business & Economics Research (Online), 14(3), p.91.
Noruzy, A., Dalfard, V.M., Azhdari, B., Nazari-Shirkouhi, S. and Rezazadeh, A., 2013. Relations between transformational leadership, organizational learning, knowledge management, organizational innovation, and organizational performance: an empirical investigation of manufacturing firms. The International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology, 64(5-8), pp.1073-1085.
Radu Lefebvre, M. and Redien?Collot, R., 2013. “How to do things with words”: The discursive dimension of experiential learning in entrepreneurial mentoring dyads. Journal of Small Business Management, 51(3), pp.370-393.
Zimmerman, B.J., 2013. Theories of self-regulated learning and academic achievement: An overview and analysis. In Self-regulated learning and academic achievement (pp. 10-45). Routledge.