235632 Learning organization and transforming leadership: Concepts not well understood nor implemented

Tuesday, November 1, 2011: 11:10 AM

W. Michael Reid, PhD, MBA , Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, University of South Florida, Tampa, FL
The terms “learning organization” and “transforming leadership” are commonplace in the public health literature since their introduction by Peter Senge and James McGregor Burns respectively. The terms had fairly precise meanings as Senge and Burns used them. The former is an organization created and maintained through the rigorous application of five disciplines (personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, team learning, and systems thinking). Transforming leadership was a model of political leadership that elevated the followers in several ways, including at least some understanding of the leader's goals, accepting those goals, level of enthusiasm, and level of morality. These terms are often used in the public health literature in such simplified ways that they bear little relationship to the original concepts. The term learning organization is generally used for a situation in which people can learn on the job, share information, and work in teams (without serious attention to the application of the five disciplines). The term transforming leadership is applied to public health organizations and is used to describe measures aimed at transforming organizations and their performance, often through participative methods, to increase efficiency and effectiveness. The simplified ways of describing the application of these concepts are generally consistent with many public health principles (e.g., openness, team work, inclusive processes). However, the application of these concepts in ways that Senge and Burns intended would lead to practices that seem antithetical to many public health principles (e.g., top down leadership, leadership focused on elevating the character of the organization's workers). Those who study or lead organizations should consider whether they are using Senge's and Burns' original terms and recommended practices accurately and, if so, whether that use is wise. They should also consider whether other terms might be more suitable to their study and practice.

Learning Areas:
Administration, management, leadership
Public health or related education
Systems thinking models (conceptual and theoretical models), applications related to public health

Learning Objectives:
1. Define learning organization as developed by Peter Senge 2. Define transforming leadership as developed by James McGregor Burns 3. Compare these definitions with their general use in the public health literature 4. Discuss the implications for public health leadership of the Senge and Burns concepts

Keywords: Leadership, Theory

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am qualified to present because I have approximately 35 years of experience as a public health practitioner, university faculty member, or faculty member of an accredited school of public health. I directed a state level public health leadership institute for 15 years.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.