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Lifelong Leading and Learning

By Charles P. Allis, CPIM, CSCP | N/A 2013 | 8 | 4

Most professionals are familiar with workplace learning and leadership development. They can take the form of classes, some role-playing, and group exercises, among others. But how much of this training is retained and successfully applied by leaders and other employees? When decisions have to be made quickly, does anybody reference the relevant class handouts? While many professional training courses and workshops do offer valuable insights, there are some alternatives to consider__options that may get you thinking differently about yourself as a leader and a follower, as well as employee development as a whole.

The leading
Every business has unique challenges that demand specific leadership styles. For example, a mature, sustainable company with the primary objective of achieving consistent results would not necessarily want a leader who takes many risks. Conversely, a company that just completed a large merger likely requires a true visionary to facilitate the change effort.

Transactional leaders are task-driven and more oriented toward bureaucratic and mechanistic workplaces. They encourage refinement and improvement of current learning in the organization. In the aerospace industry, for example, transactional leaders are essential. Having well-documented processes and good standard work are vital to all stakeholders. These types of leaders use routine learning systems, through which development efforts enhance or enable skills needed to perform tasks.

In contrast, transformational leaders are more relationship-focused. They are ideal for times of uncertainty and tend to encourage new ideas and individual education for the benefit of the entire organization. Transformational leaders are charismatic and encourage collaboration and innovation. They challenge norms and actively experiment with new concepts and solutions.

Of course, the best leaders are able to practice the behaviors of both transactional and transformative leadership depending on current business demands.

Regardless of leadership style, the importance of aligning values with decisions and interactions among team members is essential for gaining trust in the workplace__this is called authentic dialog. Authentic leaders are self-aware, self-regulated, and balanced. They align actions with values and are transparent about their motives and goals. Authentic dialog is about having congruent, honest, and transparent discussions among organization members. Unfortunately, these ideals are not always practiced. Information can be hidden or bad news spun to look good. In addition, routines and mechanistic processes often prevent dialog, which is critical for idea generation and exchange. Leaders must be mindful of this and make efforts to promote transparency.

The learning
Developed at the University of Connecticut’s Neag School of Education, the trio model of professional development asserts that, in order to be effective, professional development must intersect three areas, which are

  • the work environment
  • individual attributes
  • key experiences in the workplace.

If just one of these factors is missing, it hinders effective learning. 

Experiential learning suggests that adults learn through practice. Much of the tacit knowledge used to perform everyday tasks cannot be acquired through formal training methods but is acquired through experience. So, instead of pushing training upon employees, it is better to have it readily available so people can seek it out when necessary.

Keep in mind that adults require time to reflect on events and situations to make the most of an experience. This critical reflection enables us to make sense of an experience and truly learn from it. We all have predispositions and assumptions on how things should work; reflection makes it possible to transform our existing mental model with new knowledge.

Significant events in the workplace__a difficult discussion with a colleague, an unexpected transfer, or a heated discussion with a customer__will have an effect on this mental model. It’s critical to allow the time to reflect alone or with peers and make meaning of such an experience. This can be difficult for busy professionals.

In addition to outside experience, individual factors also have considerable influence on professional development. Individuals bring motivation, confidence, and self-efficacy to the equation. Self-directed individuals are motivated, make and manage their own goals, and monitor their own education while attempting to reach those goals. Taking responsibility for one’s own professional development is important in today’s business environment. It’s advantageous to set your own goals, know where to get the resources to achieve them, and monitor your own progress on that journey.

Companies are comprised of intricate social systems that shape the workplace. Often, social groups will have a profound influence on employee development, engagement, and management behavior. Social learning systems cultivate informal work groups that share knowledge, collaborate, and use various resources to solve complex problems of practice. These may transcend organizational boundaries (department, business unit, or division) to support the transfer of knowledge among members.

Examples of groups solving complex problems of practice can be found everywhere. They may be members of a local APICS chapter, a small team sharing an office cubicle, or colleagues attending the same workplace learning event. With the use of social media and discussion forums, groups are even becoming virtual. Because of their informal nature, organizations are rarely able to purposely organize, manage, or leverage these teams. That said, it is in these social systems that much of our standard work is first developed and revised, ideas are shared, and work problems are resolved.

Putting it together
Leadership and learning have a profound relationship with one another. It should be no surprise that successful leaders value learning and leverage the ideas and knowledge of their teams in order to achieve organizational goals. If you are reading this article, then I know lifelong education is something for which you strive, and I hope you have gained some useful insights about your approach to work and professional development.

Charles P. Allis, CPIM, CSCP, is a supply chain manager at Pratt & Whitney, a United Technologies Company. He has worked in the aerospace industry for nearly 15 years. Allis may be contacted at charles.allis@pw.utc.com.

Editor's note: Author Charles P. Allis, CPIM, CSCP, will present an educational session at APICS 2013 in Orlando, Florida, USA. His presentation, "Promoting a Learning Culture for Heightened Performance and Advancement," will explore how to use fundamental education principles to maximize learning in the workplace for both individuals and teams. He will explore with attendees how to direct and manage a learning culture, achieve a collaborative inquiry process, and apply experience-based learning methods and optimal leadership styles. For more information, visit apicsconference.org.

The editors of the APICS Dictionary are currently seeking suggestions for new terms and definitions. Submit any changes you'd like to see in the next edition at apics.org/dictionaryterms.


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