In Search of the Lifelong Learning Leader

People around the world are increasingly discontent with globalization because it has not extended the benefits to everyone. But, as professor Klaus Schwab, founder of The World Economic Forum said: “The problem that we have is not globalization. The problem is a lack of global governance, a lack of means to address global issues.”

This governance is related to how our leaders approach solutions for problems that arise. Globalization has brought new leadership structures that focus on efficiency and serving the purpose of the organization mission.

In his treatise on Political Parties, sociologist Robert Michels affirms that all organizations, despite their interest to become more inclusive, will eventually be trapped within the “iron law of oligarchy”. Michels believed that the power structure of the organization is not designed to hold the leaders and their decisions accountable, but to concentrate their power in a self-serving elite that will ultimately shape the future of the organizations without offering opportunities to the people outside of the circle of power.

I believe that Michels is wrong. The world has already seen the rise of the Internet and new tools that were unthinkable in 1911. In just 100 years, the world has embraced new approaches that, even though they are not perfect, have increased equity and offer opportunities for social mobilizations.

The problem is that we take key elements that are making a better world for granted. Such events include the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst to achieve the vote for women in Britain in 1918, the fight of Martin Luther King, Jr., to fight segregation and pave the path for the first African-American President, and the effort to reduce extreme poverty. These events are not a natural process, but are a conscious effort from mankind to better ourselves. People around the world are asking our leaders to be more responsive to the necessities of the communities, establishing an open dialogue that could increase the benefits for all.

An inclusive world requires a new leadership discourse

Responsive and responsible leadership should be transformed into a continuous process on which the leader is actively listening, tracking and learning in order to keep up with the pace of the world instead of focusing solely on the pressing problems of today. Focus should be on the co-construction of the future for an inclusive society. It is necessary for a responsive and responsible leader to be a “lifelong learning leader”.

Normally, the leader is surrounded by experts (people with the right knowledge, skills and experience) who advise him on how to make decisions based on their perception of the reality. Some leaders use different methods to find out what the non-experts (the citizens) think about the impact of their decisions. However, this is not enough because the voice of the non-experts is not being heard but is rather being transformed into data and used only as an input instead of an asset.

The lifelong learning leader

Being a “lifelong learning leader” is necessary to evolve from listening and acting based on advice from experts to listening, tracking and learning based on a combination of input from experts and non-experts as well. To achieve this, the leader can utilize technology by opening direct communication channels so that all citizens can speak out and share their perception of the reality.

Many leaders have tried this approach, but without a key element that could reconfigure the concept of governance. For example, Gabe Newell, the CEO of Valve, answers emails from his customers and Bill Gates has used the user community Reddit to answer questions. Some politicians have used Social media to provide an opportunity for citizens to express their opinions while other leaders have become aware of issues due to online petitions.

Even though these efforts are important, the leader is still not accessing a broader concept of reality. Most of the information is being scrutinized and filtered by the experts, so the decision-making process will only benefit what the experts consider to be relevant.

No one should be “irrelevant”

The “lifelong learning leader” recognizes that those who are “irrelevant” should also be an active part of the planning, execution and implementation of the policies. Technology could be an open channel so that both the leader, experts and non-experts can listen to what is being proposed, track what is being implemented, and learn from the successes and failures. As a medium, technology opens communication channels so that the leader can consult in real time on a daily basis.

In this case, transparency would be the fuel to increase the empathy of the individuals because, if people stop listening to those who think differently, how will we know if we are right or wrong?

So, what do you think, what are other traits required for a Lifelong Learning Leader?

We can break the “iron law of oligarchy” if we work together for our future.

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