Becoming a Continuous Learner
This chapter is about the need for leaders to become continuous learners. The chapter defines what this means, outlines elements of continuous learning, describes informal learning opportunities, and examines how the organizational environment supports and encourages continuous learning. Moreover, it shows how work groups and organizations, as well as leaders, evolve and grow continuously, and in the process, support a development-oriented organizational culture.
Consider how organizational change demands continuous learning and how continuous learning is integral to operating a business. A good example is the case of Cisco Systems and its CEO, John Chambers. (See chap. 5, this volume, for a description of Chambers' leadership development strategy.) The company's prime focus is customer satisfaction (“Cisco—From 3,000 employees to 30,000 employees in 5 years, ” 2000). Chambers spends 70% of his time with customers and his own employees in order to stay in touch with front line issues. In frequent meetings, he queries employees for ways the firm can improve. He learns about what is not working and what can be done about it. He uses a Web-based data collection and analysis process to track customer satisfaction. He studies customer satisfaction data regularly, examining the data by country, city, key customer, and individual sales representative. Once a month, Chambers attends a breakfast for employees with birthdays that month. He quizzes them for 1½ hours about anything and everything, searching for ideas for improvement. This is a continuous quest for knowledge about what is happening in the firm and the industry, what new products and services are needed, and ways the company can do better. Continuous learning does not happen apart from the operations of the business but is