When perusing job banks, one can see that there are many opportunities for “training director” and “training manager” but a precious few for “learning leader.” This phenomenon may be explained by the fact that a small number of organizations consider themselves true learning organizations; therefore, they have no need for a learning leader. In other organizations, this responsibility falls upon the overworked human resources (HR) department, which has an octopus-legs’ array of other responsibilities. Alternatively, because some organizations mostly train to comply with laws and regulations, the legal department is the responsible party for learning — again, added to its already full plate.

For this article’s sake, let’s assume that your organization has a learning leader or needs one. Like other jobs, there are all stars and there are no stars — so, which competencies should an all star come with?

Why the Need?

According to Deloitte, high-performing learning organizations are 92% more likely to innovate, have 37% greater employee productivity and have a 34% faster response to customer needs. They are also 58% more prepared to meet future demand and 46% more likely to be first to market.

What a Learning Leader Should Do

The many hats worn by dedicated learning leaders include:

    • Influencing the organization’s vision and commitment to a learning mission and culture.
    • In some cases, persuading organizational leaders that their public support and follow-through is essential for learning to help achieve strategic and tactical goals, ranging from increased productivity and performance to major change or risk management.
    • Engaging organizational leaders to define a strategic approach to learning content and instruction.
    • Overseeing the creation of learning that is practical, relevant and memorable.
    • Having resourcing, budgetary, scheduling, learning technology and strategy, and pedagogical responsibilities.
    • Directing an internal learning and development (L&D) team, including recruitment, onboarding, recognition, and coaching and mentoring individuals to improve their skill set and manage their professional development (or selecting and setting expectations for an external team).
    • Maintaining the coherence and optimism of the learning function.
    • When possible, engaging learners for their input on course design, instructional activities, media use, diversity and evaluation.
    • Constantly evaluating which learning solutions work and which don’t work, leading to the continuous improvement of the L&D function.
    • Improving the capabilities of the L&D team.
    • Being a lifelong learner by staying current with evolving and relevant neuroscience, learning theories and technologies.

Personal Qualities

It’s fair to say that, for the most part, a good learning leader has the personal qualities of any good leader, regardless of department. After the de facto integrity, communication and active listening, civil and respectful behavior, openness to change, and keeping one’s ego in check, we should add the ability to expect and accept ambiguity. This ambiguity includes sponsors who change their minds quickly and easily, ill-defined business needs, shifting priorities and deadlines, unavailability of subject matter experts (SMEs) to help with content creation and review, last-minute notices that a learning product must go through a legal and marketing review … need we go on?

In Closing …

Leading the learning function may not be for the faint of heart, but consider the upside: Measurably good learning contributes to an organization’s productivity, employee recruitment and retention, and reputation. It helps the organization manage risk, whether it’s safety, occupational or legal. It reinforces important messages about civility, respect, diversity and inclusion. It demonstrates that the organization cares enough for its people to make available pertinent, practical and engaging training opportunities.

Enlightened leadership of the learning function can turn a diffuse work culture into a learning culture and, when the stars align, a true learning organization. Who would argue with that?