Leadership and The Learning Organisation

30th April 2021

Learning Organisation (LO)

The Learning Organisation is hailed by management guru, Peter Drucker as the organisational concept of the future. Peter Senge’s Five Disciplines revealed the 5 pillars of LO as illustrated in Figure 1, as portrayed in Spotify, a Swedish audio streaming and media services company that champions learning and continuously transforming itself. Employees are encouraged and persuaded to continually develop their know-hows, capacities, and chances to innovate (Flood 2014).

At Spotify, the organisation structure is people-driven with largely autonomous and focus on self-management, communication, and accountability. The benefits are evident in LO and the traits of Transformational leadership (TFL) (Cruth, 2021) as shown in table 1 (Anders, 2020).

We acknowledge that there are pitfalls to LOs, but the benefits in table 1 outweighs by bringing about the competitive advantage through enhanced competencies, personal mastery, greater efficiency, increased productivity, which are the important drivers for performance. (Sanchez & Heene 2010).

When Martin Lorentzon and Daniel Ek founded Spotify in 2006, their vision and mental model were to tackle the piracy in the music industry (Martin 2014). They influence the learning to be competitive by being visionary and as a programme developer, Daniel knew what motivates the team; and capitalized that trait (Sriram 2020).  Spotify’s annual revenue growth rise from €6.76bn in 2019 to €7.88bn in 2020 and enjoys continued growth (Iqbal 2021).

Another example of LO with an exemplary change agent is Netflix. Reed Hastings leadership style has addressed much of the barriers to learning organisation and successfully made Netflix a successful company today. Figure 2 illustrates how Netflix has applied Senge’s LO disciplines into its business model.

Barriers to The Learning Organisation

Continual and disruptive change is inevitable, change agents such as Martin, Daniel and Reed has made it for the companies they led, resulting in positive outcomes. Figure 3 illustrates the barriers to LO (Thomas & Allen, 2006). Leaders must challenge these barriers by resolving and tackling the complexity of the systems, break the resistance through motivations and regular dialogues and communications, as we see in the two successful LOs.

Highlighting some examples: Martin restructured the Spotify organisation into squads, tribes, and chapters to break the conventional structural silos. Reed at Netflix provided necessary resources and emphasis on what can be learnt from mistakes instead of blame game.

Change Agents

The change agents mentioned, display characteristics as illustrated in figure 4.which are the characteristics of successful change agents (Lunenberg, 2010). Hasting positively reinforces the nine factors to one another and synergizing the people, resources, energies, and activities involved in interacting in the change effort that mutually support success. Hemophilly, is predominant in all the leaders with their shared vision and thinking alike with the team.


The view of leadership in LOs are as displayed and defined in figure 5. The leaders build the organization where they continually expand their teams’ capabilities, clarify their vision, share their mental models, and comprehend the complexity (Senge 1990). Both Martin and Danial portrayed these additional leadership traits by uniquely reshaping the business operations and organisation whilst Danial was more of the “Teacher”, coaching and mentoring the teams and Martin designed the structures and visions.


I have reflected in this post from a macro view where Learning Organisations have benefited companies and the employees, when they are looped into the shared vision of the organisation. Thus, creating a win-win situation for all. Change is predestined, and employee’s resistance is unnecessary and may sometimes be disruptive to the flow of the operations. However, as we go deeper into the organisation and understand the challenges, we see how ethical leaders will apply various theories and models to motivate their team.
Leaders are the catalyst to achieving these goals and to be an exemplary leader, the ‘toolbox’ is wide and deep, from being ethical, able to motivate followers and running the business. In a learning organisation, the leaders have additional traits as we see above.


Anders, O. (2020) The Oxford Handbook of the Learning Organization. New York: Oxford University Press.

Argyris, C. (1977) Organizational learning and management information systems. ScienceDirect, 2(2), pp. 113-123.

Barbara , L. & James, M. (1988) Organizational Learning. Annual Review of Sociology, Volume 14, pp. 319-340.

Cruth, M.(2021) Discover the Spotify model. [Online]
Available at: < https://www.atlassian.com/agile/agile-at-scale/spotify&gt; [Accessed 29 April 2021].

Dusya, V. & Mary, C. (2004) Strategic Leadership and Organizational Learning. Academy of Organisational Learning, 29(2), pp. 222-240.

Flood, R. (2014) Rethinking The Fifth Discipline. 2nd ed. London: Routledge.

Iqbal, M., 2021. Spotify Revenue and Usage. [Online]
Available at: < https://www.businessofapps.com/data/spotify-statistics/&gt;
[Accessed 29 April 2021].

Lunenberg, F. (2010) Managing Change: The Role of the Change Agent. International Journal of Management, Business, and administration, 13(1).

Martin, L.(2014) Leadership Fireside Chat with the Co-Founder of Spotify, Martin Lorentzon. [Online] Available at:<  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pw0eQzh6sww >
[Accessed 29 April 2021].

Rachel , A. (2020) The Benefits Of A Learning Organization Culture. [Online]
Available at: < https://bloomfire.com/blog/benefits-learning-organization-culture/&gt;
[Accessed 14 April 2021].

Senge, P. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization. 1st ed. New York: Doubleday.

Sriram, K. (2020) Daniel Ek. [Online]
Available at: < https://www.theobservereffect.org/daniel.html#personaltimemgmt >
[Accessed 28 April 2021].

Thomas, K. & Allen, S. (2006)  The learning organisation:. Emeraldinsight, 13(2), pp. 123- 139.


10 thoughts on “Leadership and The Learning Organisation

  1. Great distinctions outlined between the learning organisation and organisational learning! The chat outlining the barriers to learning organisations is so simple yet can be so complicated – each point has several layers of understanding as to why it happens and how to bridge the gap. I like your illustration outlining Senge’s perception of leaders in LO – we can all do better by using that as the guide! Thanks for sharing, please continue to write your blogs!


  2. Great insightful article on learning organizations. I would agree that change is constantly required, often the problem is change management on individual level. Placing emphasis on adapting to changes does indeed help instead of pushing the blame in situations. Also love the fact you pointed out appointing agents of change, these act as informal leaders.


  3. Nobody honestly like changes, in a organisation they need to adapt to the new leader or environment(reshuffling the team), but I do believe if the leader shows the purposes of the objectives and goals with conviction, the followers will eventually follow. Those who does not agreed equal to not giving others the opportunity, so they leave the organisation


  4. Change is necessary, mostly unavoidable. but expect resistance. this is where the challenge begins. sometimes i rather not be change agent. hate looking like the bad guy when it explodes in your face. but it could look good to if the change works out well for you. so its risk management here as well i suppose?


  5. Great sharing Joe! Agree with Joyce, please continue to write your blogs!
    From the well structured article, I would say that learning organization can build change readiness by integrating change capabilities with leadership development and management training, by applying disciplined change management processes to change efforts, and by leveraging employee networks to promote change capability throughout all organisational levels.


  6. I rarely have heard organisations going thru smooth change, thou some will give you the impression they are all for it. But instead act as agents against change . This to be is the worse kind . Hidden agendas !!!


  7. Great sharing and amazing blog! Especially the example of Spotify, very clear and interesting insight analysis. Benefit a lot from it. Thanks again for sharing, please continue to write your blogs!


  8. Thanks for sharing Joe! Great theoretical write up on Senge’s 5th discipline with clear illustrations from Spotify and Netflix! The discussion on Change Agent is refreshing and informative! Thank you and


  9. The worldwide web owes you, thank you for sharing this treasure of a blog post! I recognise how you went on an offbeat tangent yet managed to arrive at the same destination on leadership and learning. You skillfully deconstructed the relevance of understanding the barriers to learning organizations, helping emergent and seasoned leaders appreciate the value of their craft even more.

    Looking forward to reading more of your blog posts!

    Liked by 1 person

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