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Amy Gade

LDRS 802: Organizational Systems, Change, and Leadership


Scholarly Journal Article Critique #2
Introduction
For this assignment, the author of this paper selected to critique the scholarly
journal article entitled Leading organizational learning: Reflections on theory and
research by Gary Yukl (2009). The purpose of this particular article is to discuss the
concept of organizational learning and how leaders can influence organizational
learning within their respective organizations. In this article, Yukl (2009) defines
organizational learning, discusses how it fits into to popular leadership theories, how
leaders can influence collective learning, the obstacles in collective learning, and
alternate research methods that should be used to research organizational learning.
It is likely Yukl (2009) intends this article used by those leaders looking to
successfully impact their organization through the use of collective learning.
Thesis
While Yukl (2009) fails to explicitly state a thesis, the author believes his
intent is to suggest additional areas of research on organizational learning, as well
as some research methods to use to seek answers about organizational learning.
Yukl (2009) also notes, I also point out some limitations of well-known theories
such as transformational and charismatic leadership for explaining how leaders
influence organizational learning (p.50). While the author does not know Yukls
(2009) intentions for this work, she does not assume that he has any kind of axe to
grind previous organizational learning scholars. Instead, the author deduced that
Yukl is simply trying to add to the organizational learning research and further
clarify its place in leadership education.
Main Points

Through use of literary analysis, the author of the article identifies some ways
in which leaders can influence organizational learning, which he has identified at the
core as being collective learning by members of the organization (Yukl, 2009, p.
49). Leaders can directly influence collective learning conditions with what they say
and do and indirectly influence it by implementation or modification of structures,
systems, and programs that can help encourage and facilitate this type of learning
(Yukl, 2009). He also identifies ways leaders can influence collective learning within
teams, but stresses that relevant knowledge from team leadership theories could
help to create a multi-level leadership of organizational learning theory.
Next, Yukl (2009) discusses how in order to better understand organizational
learning, one needs to use multiple theories and research, which include collective
processes at the both group and organizational level. He claims that the more
common dyadic leadership theories, while important to explaining influence on
individual subordinates, do not explain leader influence on collective learning
amongst a majority of the organization. He goes on to give the example of
transformational leadership, which includes the idea of motivating subordinates to
do more than expected or something different, but does not explain how the leader
can directly influence collective learning. Likewise, charismatic leadership discusses
how charisma can ones influence; however, charismatic leaders can also negatively
impact organizational learning because subordinates are more inclined to look to
the leader as knowing whats best for the organization and are therefore less likely
to challenge what may be failing.
Yukl (2009) discusses a leaders influence on the learning processes of
exploration and exploitation, common dichotomies identified in organizational
theory and change research. Because both learning processes seem to be

necessary for most organizations, the challenge comes in helping leaders gain the
benefits of each, while avoiding their negative effects. Yukl (2009) explains, Too
much emphasis on exploration may result in excessive costs for acquiring new
knowledge, but too much emphasis on exploitation can reduce flexibility and
discourage development of new products and services (p.51). It is Yukls thoughts
that popular leadership theories, like transformational or transactional leadership,
do not explain how leaders could positively influence both learning processes for the
benefit of organizational learning. He claims there is opportunity to develop a more
encompassing model which includes leadership behaviors providing both direct and
indirect forms of influence that help to facilitate collective learning within an
organization.
Yukl (2009) also includes discussion of obstacles leaders may face in trying to
influence collective learning. Some common obstacles include lack of a
collaborative approach for leading change, restriction of information and knowledge
to leaders which is unsupportive of collective learning, the siloed design of many
organizations which creates barriers for sharing information, and potential conflict
amongst organizational stakeholders. He goes on to suggest ways leaders can
overcome these obstacles, such as supporting initiatives which foster learning and
innovation, encouraging communication and providing more access to information,
developing shared values and objectives between subunits, and helping build a
culture that is flexible.
Lastly, Yukl (2009) suggests alternative research methods better suited for
studying more complex and dynamic processes that happen over time within
organizations. While behavior description questionnaires have long been the
common research method in leadership studies, Yukl believes the use of an

intensive, longitudinal studies might provide more information and results that are
easier to interpret. This type of study might include comparing an organization with
high levels of organizational learning to organizational with lower levels to
determine what skills leaders use to influence that learning. He also suggests use of
simulation studies where a realistic task is performed over long periods of time and
various team members have the opportunity to take the role of the leader. This type
of study not only involves team learning, but also allows scholars to understand how
collective learning happens amongst people whose decisions influence the
organization. He also promotes use of field experiments, but warns that finding
appropriate samples and gaining permission for access can prove challenging.
Nonetheless, he advocates that scholars who want to further develop the research
on organizational learning look for these types of opportunities.
Critical Assessment
Yukls (2009) discussion on organizational learning seems extremely relevant
to the concept of systems thinking. The process of organizational learning includes
discovering new and impactful information, distribution of this knowledge to people
within the organization who may need it, and the application of this knowledge to
improve both current and future situations (Yukl, 2009). It appears that the concepts
of organizational learning fit right into the overall idea of systems thinking, which is
to take a big picture, all-encompassing approach to thinking when it comes to an
organization. Meadows (2008) states, a system is more than the sum of its parts,
(p.12) much like organizational learning includes the thoughts of all members of an
organization. The knowledge of all members of an organization put together is more
than the sum each individual members knowledge.

Systems thinking encourages us to view an organization as an


interconnected set of elements that is coherently organized in a way that achieves
something (Meadows, 2008, p.11). In this sense, organizational learning assumes
that by sharing knowledge across the interconnected elements, an organization will
achieve that something more successfully. Because all elements are shared relevant
and impactful information, the interconnections will likely become more visible to
all. With a stronger understanding of the interconnections within an organization,
the function or purpose of the organization becomes more evident to all. A more
symbiotic function or purpose likely produces a positive effect for the organization.
Beyond a general tie into the idea of systems thinking, organizational
learning seems to echo the principles of Weisbords (2012) Future Search, which he
describes as an extremely promising method for getting whole systems in one
room and focusing on the future (p.411). The first principle of Future Search
involves getting the whole system in the same room (Weisbord, 2012). Because
organizational learning stresses the importance of disseminating relevant
knowledge to all members of the organization, it is in essence stressing the idea of
getting the whole system into the same room as it relates to new knowledge or
literally as a way to disseminate that knowledge to all.
Another principle of Future Search is to focus on the future (Weisbord, 2012).
Organizational learning seems to resonate with a futuristic mindset because the
purpose of information sharing is to help learn from the past and prepare for the
future within the organization. Yukl (2009) says that organizational learning is an
important determinant of long-term performance and survival for many
organizations (p.49). Organizations who operate from a culture of collective
learning often have more longevity because of their shared sense of function or

purpose. In truly understanding themselves, they are likely more prepared to adapt
to the future.
Lastly, a final Future Search principle relevant to organizational learning
stresses the need to invite self-management and personal responsibility
(Weisbord, 2012, p.416). While Yukl (2009) aimed to discuss some of the obstacles
in creating a collective learning environment, in his solutions he made many ties to
the invitation of personal responsibility and self-management. Yukl (2009) identified
a collaborative approach to key for fostering a collective learning environment and
stated that in doing so, leaders at all levels in an organization can help to build and
sustain a culture with strong values for learning, innovation, experimentation,
flexibility, and continuous improvement (p.52). Yukl (2009) also encouraged
leaders interested in collective learning to encourage the sharing of accurate
information, allow access to information, and encourage the use of social networks
amongst subordinates as a way to increase access to new ideas and information. It
seems in order to maintain a level of collective learning amongst members of the
organization, a leader should encourage those members to take personal
responsibility for idea generating and information sharing.
Because of the shared concepts of a very all-inclusive approach to
information, ideas, concerns, and solutions, systems thinking, the primary focus of
LDRS 802: Organizational Systems, Change, and Leadership at Fort Hays State
University, seems to encompass the ideals of organizational learning and vice versa.
While Yukl (2009) identified some limitations to the current research on
organizational learning, Meadows (2008) and Weisbord (2012) stick to a more
conceptual approach to explaining what systems thinking is and how its most
beneficial; therefore, the author of this paper was unable to compare Yukls

arguments to others. Because Yukls (2009) approach is largely critical of the


research and follows it with suggestions for further research topics and methods, it
is safe to assume he is thorough in the presentation of his points of view in this
article.
Reflection
As a current and future leader, the author of this paper found many concepts
that she plans to use in her professional life. Most notably, the overall concept of
organizational learning is one of immense value. It reminds the author that it is
important to strive for informational sharing in all aspects of professional life. It
allows each organizational member to feel valued as a part of the overall team,
allows team members to learn with and from each other, but also allows for the
strongest ideas to come to head. By involving as many people in information
gathering and sharing, the best ideas and solutions are going to come forward. An
organizational learning environment is one the author of this paper would most
likely to be a part of, as well as lead.
While Yukl (2009) identified many obstacles leaders have in influencing
collective learning, he also provided solutions, many of which the author plans to
keep in her wheelhouse. While followers view the leader as responsible for change
and innovations, the author has a strong followership mindset. In not being afraid to
involve followers in change, the author will create more bottom-up initiatives which
help place value on learning, continuous improvement, and flexibility. By being more
open with information, the author can encourage communication between
subordinates and encourage the sharing of new ideas. By sharing values and
objectives of the organization, the author helps all members know their place in

those values and objectives which helps build trust and appreciation amongst
members.
What the author most appreciates about Yukls (2009) work is his ability to
take a critical look at the current place of organizational learning in leadership
research. While he addresses many limitations of the current research, he also
identifies areas of growth and also suggests ways to approach the research. It
seems as though he has done about everything he can to help identify a place for
organizational learning in leadership study, but complete all the research himself.
Because of the authors limited knowledge on various research methods, it is tough
to be critical of his suggested approaches. He seems to present a very well-rounded
case regarding the current research and its limitations by also providing areas of
needed research and suggested approaches.

References
Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in Systems: A Primer. White River Junction, VT:
Chelsea Green
Publishing.
Weisbord, M. R. (2012). Productive Workplaces: Dignity, Meaning, and Community in
the 21st Century. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Yukl, G. (2009) Leading organizational learning: Reflections on theory and research.
Leadership Quarterly, 20(1), 49-53. doi:10.1016/j.leadqua.2008.11.006.