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The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership: Pillar IV (Learning)

By Michael E. Rock, Ed.D. |


PILLAR IV: Learning
"Building the New Architecture: Sustaining a Future"
(Part 4 of 7)

"The future is traditionally thought of as an extension of the past. If one knows the starting point, one can predict the future path of an event by following a straight line. That's how most of today's business projection tools work. But the discovery of nonlinear, dynamic systems by Edward Lorenz of MIT in the 1960s changed that worldview in fundamental ways." – Louisa Wah1

"Most businesses do not move so fast that foresight, commitment, preemption, deterrence, and other traditional strategic elements no longer build business value. Even in the fastest industries, good managers can still add value by creating the right working conditions to spur creativity. In other words, management still matters a lot, Hout says, even in the new economy." Harvard Business Review executive summary2

"Now, most of us, even those of us with modest endowments, will have to learn to manage ourselves. We will have to learn to develop ourselves. We will have to place ourselves where we can make the greatest contribution. And we will have to stay mentally alert and engaged during a 50-year working life, which means knowing how and when to change the work we do. – Peter F. Drucker3

"Man becomes man only by the intelligence, but he is man only by the heart." – Henri Fréderic Amiel4

If there is one word that best describes the business environment in the 1990s, that word would probably be chaotic. For many people, the experience of chaos means things out of control, all over the place, disorder. While many people may not be able to explain why chaos seems to surround us as our constant companion today – in our personal and business lives – they now know that things cannot be the way they used to be; and, in some strange way, the best answer they can give to their why question is, “That's the way it is now.”

To make matters even more difficult, we have two schools of thought on “how to manage the chaos”: (a) a “roll-with-the-punches” school of thought, and (b) a “don't- forget-the-basics-also” school of thought. These points of view are captured in two of the opening quotes: (a) Louise Wah, in her article, “Welcome to the Edge,” reviews the current thinking on chaos and complexity theory and says that the best place to be is on the “edge of chaos,” if we are to manage well today.5 Managing at the edge gives the manager “enough structure to hold people and processes together, yet enough flexibility to allow innovation and adaptation.”6 The key EQ skill for managers to learn in order to manage this chaotic environment is adaptability, because adaptability is precisely the dynamic that embraces most effectively the elements in a chaotic system – whether that system be the weather or the flocking behaviour of geese. Like jazz musicians, adaptability allows managers to follow a few rules, but improvise as they go along. (b) On the other hand, Thomas M. Hout, a senior advisor at the Boston Consulting Group in Boston, Mass., in his article in the Harvard Business Review, “Are Managers Obsolete?” says in relation to chaos theory that there are limits to self-organization, especially when one is talking about a market economy -- precisely it is made up of human beings. He is concerned that if managers simply give in to the “way of the geese,” so to speak – that is, “going with the flow” in celebrating freshness and flexibility in companies – that they will undervalue the lessons of experience.7 Thus, business today still needs better managers and strategists: “And if I had to bet, I'd bet on the group who believes in the importance of management.”8

Whatever side of the chaos argument you prefer – adaptability v. strategy – we make the claim in The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership that learning will be your centre pillar. If you look at the picture of the temple (above, and at the beginning of this article), Pillar IV – Learning – is the middle one.

Learning = Change

Learning also equals change: learning = change. In effect, what we are claiming, therefore, is that we have no choice about change today. Change is not an option, which is the same thing as saying that learning is not an option. What is an option is our attitude to change or learning, and whether we choose growth as a person and as a business, or whether, as Carl Jung reminds us, we choose to go like pigs to the slaughter because of the challenges ignored.

Hence, today's organizations have to be learning organizations. They have to embrace change, move with its dynamic flow, and use wisdom and experience as their backbone.

QUESTION: “Is Your Organization Open to Change?”

Let's do an organizational check. Think of the organization you work in. Estimate fairly and honestly your answer to the following seven (7) questions. Use the scale below to make your choice:

  1. = To a very little extent
  2. = To a little extent
  3. = To some extent
  4. = To a great extent
  5. = To a very great extent

The organization I work for ...

Item No. Item My Score
Fosters excitement about learning something new each day.  
Is a learning organization.  
Values innovation highly.  
Is effectively learning how to change structures and systems.  
Promotes new learning and new thinking.  
Is constantly learning new ways to improve itself.  
Allows employees to learn from their mistakes.  


If you scored 32-35: You're well on the learning, or change, journey. If you scored 28-31: You're doing all right, but need to improve. If you scored 25-27: You definitely need to take stock right now. If you scored 0-24: You're are, or will be, in trouble.

Learning is transformative. In The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership, we believe there are at least four “hot buttons” to press to transform our hearts and minds. They are diagrammed below:


In other words, we need

  • vision to have perspective to see
  • insight to inspire leadership
  • images to visualize change
  • spirit to guide the transformation

Above all, learning in the new workplace and organization will now include what we call inner-core competencies. These are the competencies of the knowledge worker, competencies such as congruent thinking, seamless learning, conceptual research and development, emotional intelligence, innovation, and creativity. I have included a chart below to illustrate an intuitive appreciation of what the challenge is now for organizations.

Competencies 2000


In the past, what we have known as “IQ” – mental smarts – was what counted. I have indicated this by the word “chart” in the legend part of the chart (above). Managers and executives spent much time “charting” out the 5, 10, and sometimes 15 year strategic plan. It was a logical, analytical experience, and when companies stuck to the plan, they usually did quite well. Mental smarts were at a premium. While being mentally prepared is still a sine qua non, that preparedness is not enough today. I tell my students, “Your diploma or degree will get you in the door. To have it does not necessarily guarantee you a job. Not to have it of necessity does not guarantee you a job.” It's a “Catch-22" for students and potential hires. Even though enough research abounds that indicates a very high correlation between traditional job success factors and high IQ or intellectual smarts, more is needed today for success.

Research now also shows that this IQ benchmark – while important – only accounts for 2-6% of life success and about 20% of job success! What has emerged over the past 20 years is Dr. Reuven BarOn's research and his EQ-i (Emotional Quotient-Inventory) which now has studies showing that “EQ” – emotional smarts – accounts for almost 50% of life and job success. Dr. BarOn tried to answer the question, “Why are some very bright people capable of some very stupid and even unethical behaviours?” The answer was that high IQ did not necessarily mean an emotionally and interpersonally accomplished individual. Actually, the opposite was often true: a very bright and intellectually adroit individual was often cold, aloof, belligerent, etc. The organization was then left with a choice: keep this smart, but interpersonally toxic, individual on staff, or fire the person. While we can argue that many toxic individuals should have been fired, we can also state that 75% of the reason for those who were fired, was EQ-related: they could not be team players, get along with others, show empathy, etc. Today, this kind of toxic individual – an employee, manager or executive with low EQ – is an absolute liability. Low EQ will cost the organization – time, resources, money, reputation – and possibly even force it into bankruptcy. The reason for this is that today's workplace is a workplace bombarded by change. Since “change = learning,” if an organization is not in “learning mode” on a continual basis, it will be unable to adapt. That is why the second word I use in the chart above is the word change. It should also be obvious the much larger area of competency (or EQ) needed for managing this change. Notice also the tapering of the charting competency (or IQ). At this point, managers and executives have to learn to steer more than plan.

Finally, there is a third element to the chart, what I call “SQ” or “strategic quotient” or “strategic smarts.” What impacts the organization in the globalized marketplace are the chance occurrences, the opportunities for either success or deep failure. We can have the best of mental and emotional smarts, but we need entrepreneurship of the mind and execution of will to navigate the waters of opportunity. The Chinese have a wonderful expression: Success is Preparation x Opportunity. SQ allows an organization to “seize the moment,” as the Roman poet Horace wrote in naming his poem (“Carpe Diem”).

It is the organizations that refuse to see these new dynamics that will be the most vulnerable. A top-down IQ-only organization will insist on rationality and the “hard skills” as the way to go; a top-down EQ-only organization will insist on emotionality and the “soft skills” as the way to go; and a top-down SQ-only organization will insist on the instinctual and the “reactive skills” as the way to go. Taken alone, each of these factors can lead to disaster.

The critical learning for organizations today is (a) the integration of these three natural, necessary, and essential dynamics, as well as (b) a keen awareness of the weighting or emphasis of the factors. While life does not easily acquiesce to intellectual distinctions and percentages, and while different situations call for different emphases, we can be quite confident in the proportionality and importance of the three critical factors in the new workplace:

Proportion and Importance of the New Learning Factors
Mental smarts. 20%
Relational smarts 50%
Strategic smarts 30%

The Teachable Point of View: Ford Motor Company

The March-April 1999 issue of the Harvard Business Review has a wonderful article on learning as the core construct for reinventing the new organization. My impression after reading the article was that Ford is now moving into the 21st century with the metaphor of the corporate classroom or learning space as central to its vision. It is shaped around what Ford calls “the teachable point of view” – a mechanism that turns leaders into teachers and their students into teachers and leaders as well. The teachable point of view harnesses not only the what that employees know, but especially the why. What is critical in this learning environment are qualities like trust and curiosity and what Jacques Nasser, the newly appointed CEO, describes as boundarylessness, or “behavior that is open, where people act without regard to status or functional loyalty and also look for ideas from anywhere.”9


The most important message that I would like to get across in this article on Pillar IV – Learning – is the joy that comes from gladly acquiescing in the transformative process. In some ways learning has a thorny reputation because many people equate it with their academic experiences, tests, homework, boring teachers perhaps, etc. Those costly experiences are unfortunate, but they are definitely not the essence of learning.

We don't have a choice around change itself; but we do have a choice around the possibility of growth that change brings with it. Growth, however, can only occur when we are open, which means when we are disposed to learning. Once we open our hearts and minds to learning, we also open ourselves to changing and to transformation.

The gift of who we are is always potential; we are always “on the way,” or, as Carl Jung remarked, “The way is the goal and the goal is the way.” Today's better or financially successful organizations are attuned to and living out that ethic of learning. Eric Hoffer, who lived from 1902-1983, wrote:

In a time of drastic change

it is the learners

who inherit the future.

The learned

usually find themselves

equipped to live in a world

that no longer exists.

For a summary of The 7 Pillars, go to Harcourt Brace & Company Canada's Website: or call 1-800 387-7278.

The 7 Pillars of Visionary Leadership: Introduction

PILLAR I: Visioning

PILLAR II: Mapping

PILLAR III: Journeying

PILLAR IV: Learning

PILLAR V: Mentoring

PILLAR VI: Leading



  1. Louisa Wah, "Welcome to the Edge," Management Review, November 1998, 25.

  2. Executive summary on Howard Sherman and Ron Schultz. Open Boundaries: Creating Business Innovation Through Complexity. Reading, Mass.: Perseus Books, 1998.: "Are Managers Obsolete?" Harvard Business Review, March-April 1999, 190. Original article: Thomas M. Hout, "Are Managers Obsolete?" Harvard Business Review, March-April 1999, 161-164. 166, 167, 168.

  3. Peter F. Drucker, "Managing Oneself," Harvard Business Review, March-April 1999, 65-66.

  4. In Michael Kesterton, "Social Studies," The Globe and Mail, Wednesday, March 3, 1999, A20.

  5. She is quoting from Shona Brown's book, Competing on the Edge: Strategy as Structured Chaos. Boston: Harvard Business school Press, 1998.

  6. Louisa Wah, "Welcome to the Edge," Management Review, November 1998, 25.

  7. Thomas M. Hout, "Are Managers Obsolete?" Harvard Business Review, March-April 1999, 164.

  8. Thomas M. Hout, ibid., 168.

  9. Suzy Wetlaufer, “Driving Change,” Harvard Business Review, March-April 1999, 83.

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