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The Wise Leader in a Postmodern Organizational Context

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What occurs, when an organizational leader confronts the complexity, unpredictability and turbulence of a postmodern world? I propose that this leader becomes a learner. Rather than being the primary source of wisdom, knowledge or experience (as is so often the case in premodern and modern organizations), the leader becomes a lifelong learner who exemplifies the willingness and ability to absorb new information and consider alternative frameworks and perspectives when confronting these unique postmodern challenges. I further propose that the new learning can take one of four forms and that an effective leader will at various times in their career embrace each of these forms of adult learning.

The Emerging Models of Lifelong Learning

It was typically assumed during the first half of the 20th Century that leaders of organizations had already obtained a high quality education before taking on leadership responsibilities. If they have not received an education of quality then they have acquired a sound education in the “world of hard knocks”—that is they have acquired their education through extensive experience in the field rather than by attending a formal educational institution. This assumption was challenged during the second half of the 20th Century, when increasing attention was given to management education programs for men and women who were already in positions of leadership.

Yet, the model of education for these leaders was still (in most cases) built on an accompanying set of assumptions that were established in traditional educational institutions and in work with young, inexperienced learners. A revolution needed to occur with regard to these underlying assumptions and the ongoing educational and training practices that emerged from these assumptions. This revolution goes by many names. At a fundamental level, it can be called “adult education.” Yet, there is much more to this story then just the addition of the word “adult” to the word “education.” This revolution involved the move from a “pedagogical” model of education to what is often called “andragogy.”  I will briefly describe this new model—then offer two additional models that may be even more appropriate to a leader who is not only an adult, but is also facing the multiple challenges of our postmodern world of complexity, unpredictability and turbulence.

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