Leadership, Learning, and Change


Leaders have many challenges on a daily basis. There are issues and opportunities in strategy, finance, operations, personnel, and so on. In all cases, solutions to these challenges involve change. Sometimes we have to change processes, sometimes strategies, sometimes our thinking. Involved in every change situation, though, is the need to learn.

For the last several weeks, my articles have explored how people learn. The series has been a deep dive into the cognitive, behavioral, and social processes of learning. The source for these discussions on the science of learning has been the book How Learning Works: 7 Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching.1

The authors, Ambrose, Bridges, Lovett, DiPietro, and Norman, posed a definition of learning that is very instructive. It is “a process that leads to change, which occurs as a result of experience and increases the potential for improved performance and future learning.”2

Ambrose et al. (2010) presented 7 principles that undergird this definition of learning:

  1. Students’ prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
  2. How students organize knowledge influences how they learn and apply what they know.
  3. Students’ motivation determines, directs, and sustains what they do to learn.
  4. To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
  5. Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback enhances the quality of students’ learning.
  6. Students’ current level of development interacts with the social, emotional, and intellectual climate of the course to impact learning.
  7. To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.

While all of these principles are aimed at an academic audience seeking to improve the quality and effectiveness of learning in higher education, there is indeed application to your role and responsibilities as a leader of self, others, and organizations. These core principles about learning do not have limited application to formal education.

What happens in school is really people development. What you do as a leader is also people development.

My friend and colleague, Robert Gerwig, likes to write about “world-class leaders.” I’m going to adopt his language for a moment and say that world-class leaders know that all leadership is essentially about two things:

  • Influence, and
  • Change.

That is, leadership is about influencing self, others, and organizations toward an improved future state (which requires change). Where is change needed? In your organizational structures? Perhaps. In your strategic direction? Perhaps. In your operational processes? Probably. In your communication systems? Probably. In your team building and teamwork? Probably.

The list is endless with many “perhaps” and many “probably” answers.

There is one question to which the answer is always “Always.”

Is change needed in you and your people?


Change in people requires learning. As the leader, the first person that must learn is yourself. Start with yourself and expand from there.

In all of the articles in this series, I worked to translate these academic concepts to my leadership audience. Please explore them and consider two or three practical strategies you can use to transform the learning experience in your organization as you lead people into that desired future state.


Articles In This Series

Learn. Grow. Change.
How Does Learning Work?
Assess What You Know
Knowledge Webs
Why Learn?
Why Learn? (Part II)
4 Tips for Skill Mastery
4 Tips for Skill Mastery (Part II)
The Practice Feedback Goals Link
A Biblical View of Human Development
The Glue That Holds It All Together
Leadership, Learning, and Change

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo “Brain nebula” by Ivan. Available at Flickr.com.

1: Susan A. Ambrose, Michael W. Bridges, Marsha C. Lovett, Michele DiPietro, and Marie K. Norman. How Learning Works: 7 Research-based Principles for Smart Teaching (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2010).
2: Ambrose et al. (2010), 3.

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