Action Learning Is Not a Passive Experience

Graphic silhouette of a person with the top of his head open to a variety of objects just pouring in

The best and longest-lasting learning occurs when it is hands-on. The brain does not simply absorb new information and adopt new skills through exposure alone. That’s why we recommend action learning for leadership development. 

If the future of your organization depends upon the quality and capability of your leaders, don’t you want to give them every opportunity to develop the competencies that leadership requires? The better prepared they are, the less likely they are to make disastrous leadership mistakes.

In the action learning programs we deliver, we create scenarios and simulations that demonstrate some of the best practices of successful leaders. Program participants learn the importance of:

  • Saving a place for consistency
    Innovation is highly prized in today’s marketplace. New ideas and solutions should be encouraged. But not by sacrificing consistency in the systems and processes that underpin the organization. Leaders need to know how to achieve a balance between out-of-the-box thinking and the steadiness and reliability of a consistent brand, product quality and customer service.

  • Maintaining the company’s internal compass
    Most organizations have crafted their corporate Mission, Vision and Values to provide a strategic foundation. But few really adhere to living them. A company’s strategic foundations should define the way leaders and others in the company make their decisions day-to-day. Leaders who understand this are able to create a culture that promotes and sustains high integrity and performance.

  • Committing to a long-term corporate strategy
    We know that strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performing organizations.  Designing a strategy is just the beginning. The challenge is in the implementation. The best leaders understand that, unless they show their absolute commitment to the company strategy, no one else in the company will. It requires discipline and an understanding of the difference between minor course corrections and major strategic shifts.

  • Establishing high performance culture of accountability
    For a high performing company, each and every employee should be clear on the expectations for success on their job and be held accountable for their performance. This includes the CEO to whom everyone looks for inspiration and behavior modeling.

Companies that hold their employees in high regard and consider them their competitive advantage provide development opportunities that support continuous learning. We highly approve. But do not overlook the importance of providing similar opportunities for your leaders as well.

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Dive In for Real Action Learning Leadership Development

5 swimmers dive into the water at the same time

The best way to test yourself as a real leader is through action learning for leadership development…simply dive in, get wet, learn, adjust, and go for it. 

Using the action learning leadership guidelines below, push a button here and there, observe the results and adjust so that the results are better the next time. There is a rhythm to action learning experientially: act, observe, reflect, connect your lessons learned and act better again. As long as you stick to the action learning discipline, you will improve as a leader and your organizational culture will be the stronger.
  1. Have you hired well?
    Your hands will be tied as a leader if you have not hired and retained the right talent. Make sure you have people aboard who share the corporate values, who buy into what the company does, who are capable and eager to learn.
  2. How clear are the goals…yours and those around you?
    Does each and every employee understand what they are striving for and how their work objectives fit into the overall goal of the organization? The greater the goal clarity at every level, the more focused the company is on staying the course.
  3. Is everyone pulling in the same direction?
    In other words, you need to be sure that corporate, team and department goals are aligned. Like a spotter plane over a fire, you are responsible for seeing that everyone’s efforts to control the burn are coordinated and in sync. If the wind is pushing in the easterly direction, make sure there are folks ahead of the fire on the east to create a break and not just following the burn from the west.
  4. How are you doing against the competition?
    Just as you must see that your sales force maintains a healthy pipeline, you must gauge your position in the overall marketplace. Know how your competition is doing, what surprises they have in store, how they are viewed by your customers and those you have not yet reached, and how you can effectively differentiate your company and offering.
  5. Keep all employees accountable.
    Performance should be measured at every level in the organization. When employees perform above expectations, they should be recognized. When they perform below expectations, some form of remediation is called for. Good leaders never ignore substandard performance. They know it can infect and drag down an entire organization.
As a leader, there’s a lot to watch out for. But with a good team, an open mind, an attitude of continuous action learning for leadership development, and discipline, you can swim your laps and reach the finish line.

The Steps to Learn Leadership Skills in Real Time

silhouette of a man walking on the face of a clock entitled "Time for Action"

Action learning for leadership development is not a new concept. But its effectiveness is reinforced by research again and again. 

The only piece that makes this development approach even more powerful is adding a skilled leadership coach who can guide the learning and ensure the real work gets done back on the job.

What are the advantages of action learning? Leaders learn as they work on real issues in real time. They are not wasting time and effort on so-called scenarios that have little to do with their actual business challenges. 

Here is how Action Learning for Leadership Development works:
  1. Leaders address issues with others on their learning team. They work together in a safe environment and are able to appreciate one another’s strengths. This interaction builds trust and helps integrate individual senior managers into a high functioning team.

  2. The team identifies what needs improvement…it may be a skill they lack or a pressing business problem. As a group, they agree upon next steps and actions to take. The leadership coach offers advice and guidance and helps to codify the skills to be practiced or the plans to be implemented. The action plans are transparent to the team members so each one knows what the others will be doing.

  3. Leaders take the agreed-upon actions back on the job. Here is real transfer of training as they practice different behaviors right back onsite where they are needed. 

  4. When the team reconvenes, they analyze results and reflect upon what they might handle differently. They share observations and feedback. Did they practice the new skill, how often and what were the results? Perhaps they made a recommended change in sales team methodology. How was that received? The job site becomes a laboratory for experimentation and change.

  5. Finally they tweak their strategy and plan for the next leadership actions.  It is an iterative process where the learning occurs step-by-step. Identification of the issue to be addressed, planning for what actions to take, practice on the job of the agreed-upon steps, reflection on how to do it better and new plans for action. It doesn’t take long before this methodology for action learning for leadership development becomes embedded in the learner’s DNA and in the team process.

Give it a try with your leadership team…it works! 

5 Barriers to Positive Interactions that Plague Leaders

a plaque with the number 5 is attached to a wall

Most business experts agree that the quality of a leader’s personal interactions in the workplace can have a significant impact…on organizational performance as well as on employee performance. 

Much of a leader’s time is spent interacting with others in formal presentations, informal conversations and executive meetings. If these interactions are positive, the outcome for all involved is likely to be positive. If the interactions are negative, the results can be reflected in poor performance, decreased employee engagement and increased turnover. It matters, then, that leaders do what they can to improve their interactions across the board. 

One of the best ways to learn improved communication skills is through action learning for leadership development. If leaders become aware of the 5 main ways their communications can go south, they can tune into how they interact throughout the organization, stop and reflect upon the outcome, and identify how they could have handled it better. It is a recurring cycle of do, reflect, adjust and do again.

Here are five barriers to positive interactions that plague many leaders. They should try not to:

  1. Rely too heavily on the facts.
    They may have reached the right conclusion, but presenting it only in terms of data could alienate those whose support is needed. The best leaders know how to balance the hard facts with empathy for those the decision will affect.

  2. Act before listening well.
    Many leaders have a bias toward action. This can get them into trouble if they rush to fix a problem before fully understanding it. The best leaders exercise enough patience to listen to the context of the situation, include advice from stakeholders and then work thoughtfully and collaboratively toward a solution at a speed that makes sense.

  3. Introduce change without engaging others.
    The change may be necessary, but it will be implemented far more effectively when there is buy-in from senior management as well as from the workers at large. Some leaders at the top forget how they got there…by effectively including key stakeholders and diligently influencing others to follow them.

  4. Coach without having the full picture.
    Leaders wield enormous influence. A thoughtless critical comment can have a devastating effect on the receiver. The best leaders avoid snap judgments. They ask thoughtful questions and look to fill in the gaps so they understand the complete situation before they speak.

  5. Depend on only one communication style.
    It is only natural to have a preferred style of communicating. But the best communicators adjust their style to the situation and those they want to influence. The ability to flex and shift to the most effective approach is the sign of a good leader. 

Leadership Action Learning – How to Really Move the Needle

a graphic of a needle on a dial

If you really want to have an almost immediate yet long lasting impact on performance and development in your organization, try action learning for leadership development.

What is action learning? It is an approach to solving real problems whereby a team of learners acts and then reflects upon the results. They work on-the-job to address current problems, decide upon a solution, act and then step back to assess the effectiveness of what they have done. The process helps develop leaders and get “real work” done at the same time. It is a proven strategy that increases leadership capabilities in an organization while moving the business forward.

An interesting example of action learning involved one of our high tech clients.  They had been experiencing difficulty with one of their products.  They had assigned various expert teams to address the problem, but all attempts at correction had failed. They could not meet the efficiency specs of their biggest client, and time was running out. 

Looking for a different approach, the client set up another action learning team of high potentials to troubleshoot the problem. This team came from various departments, had a range of skills, and had not worked together as a team before. And this was part of the strength of their approach. They were not stuck in the past nor by more established company knowledge and, as they questioned assumptions, they developed new paths of inquiry. Bottom line? They solved the problem. It turned out that there was not one reason for the inefficiencies but several, including some surprising findings that allowed the team to advance other products in the company. 

Action learning can encourage innovation, resourcefulness and collaboration. Well-designed action learning teams from different areas of the organization are often able to bring new perspectives to the problem at hand, challenge traditional approaches, and flex with changes as they occur. They are highly motivated because they are tasked with solving real work issues, not just a scenario designed for the classroom.

The action learning pattern of “decide”, “do”, “reflect” and “connect” improves critical thinking, decision making and problem solving. Action learning for leadership development can have a positive impact on the whole organization and may be the best value in terms of professional development that costs your training budget darn little.

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Are You an Authentic Leader?

A man walks on a straight, red-carpeted path through a maze

True leaders have a clear vision of where they are going and know how to consistently inspire others to follow them. 

You may be the head of a company but can you honestly say that you are an authentic leader? For nearly twenty years we have specialized in the field of leadership development. We have helped thousands of leaders to lead well. 

Our clients look to us for help in becoming an authentic leader who can create a high performance environment for them and their teams. Our preferred method for teaching new and experienced leaders how to lead their teams to higher performance? Action learning for leadership development. We believe, and the research supports us, that learning through real on-the-job experience is the best and most powerful way for behavior change and learning to stick.

Here is how we guide our clients to recognize their strengths and weaknesses as a leader. We ask them:

  • How well organized are you? Sometimes, leaders may need to simply look at their messy desks or full inbox to admit they struggle to manage their time and prioritize their tasks strategically.
  • What are your values? If leaders hesitate or are unclear, they are difficult to follow. Authentic leaders know exactly what they believe in and where they are headed. How are others to follow if you as a leader don’t have explicit goals and standards?
  • Are you who you say you are? Leaders who pretend to be other than their true selves are not authentic. Know yourself and be confident enough in who you are that others will recognize your integrity and trust that you will lead them toward meaningful and challenging goals.
  • Do you inspire fear or courage? Leaders who inspire fear in their followers are not true leaders. If you want loyal followers, share your courage and your dedication. Be enthusiastic about the future possibilities. Encourage others’ commitment and welcome them to your fold.

Once leaders understand the characteristics they need to work on, they can make real progress improving their leadership skills through effective coaching and targeted leadership development while getting real work done.

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Leadership Foresight Can Make All the Difference

A blindfolded man is about to walk off a cliff

What future perils leaders do not acknowledge or see, they do not attempt to change. Leaders who deny or overlook the small, early indicators of problems are not prepared to deal with them and so expose their followers to growing dangers.

Certainly, this is clear in the political and global realm. For example:

In September 2011, the United Nations supported a ‘Never Again’ campaign to end extreme hunger.  Unfortunately, the United Nations had to admit that early warning signs of impending disaster were evident, but ignored, and tens of thousands of people unnecessarily perished in the Horn of Africa.  “Not only must the international emergency response system become more flexible in responding to early warnings, we must have more regular support for risk reduction at national and community level,” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction Margareta Wahlström said of the non-governmental organization (NGO) initiative.  Could better leadership foresight have saved lives?  Are you missing important early warning signs at your company?

In 2014, the Daily Beast ran an article titled,Washington and London Ignored Warnings about the ISIS Offensive in Iraq.  It outlined several early warning signs that were missed as Isis was gaining strength.  This includes: receiving detailed warnings about jihadist plans to exploit Sunni resentment toward Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an uncovered plan to launch an ambitious takeover of northern and western Iraq, a shadow government that was formed in Mosul weeks before initiating the carefully planned takeover of the city.  In fact the Kurds’ intelligence head, Lahur Talabani, says he handed Washington and London detailed reports about the unfolding threat, and the warnings “fell on deaf ears.”

Whether it is encroaching famine due to climate change or early indicators that Isis was gaining strength, the whole world will suffer as these problems grow. If only we had had leaders who had the foresight and the power to change the direction of these two impending disasters.

In the corporate world, the ability to foresee problems that matter when they first emerge and the willingness to acknowledge and deal with them early is a leadership quality that can make the difference between success and failure. Woe to the leader at Kodak who refused to understand the shift from old-style film cameras to the now-pervasive digital cameras. Or look at the car industry… there was growing evidence that consumers were moving away from gas guzzlers but only the companies that built that trend into their future plans were able to deal effectively with the shift.

True leaders do not ignore hints of shifts in the economy, workplace or their marketplace. They are ready to learn all they can about what may affect their business in the future. That’s where their sights must be. They need to have plans in place to deal with the current situation but their organization relies upon their paying attention to what potentially lies ahead. 

What trends are developing now? Certainly the growth of technology will continue at exponential speed. The question is how this will affect different industries. The leaders who predict correctly and act now will be in a competitive position to deal with the changes ahead. We all see more and more millennials entering the work force. Does this present a problem or an opportunity? The leaders who foresee how the younger employees will affect their business are the ones who will be prepared for the future. 

Try to build the critical quality of foresight into your action learning for leadership development program. Strategic scenario planning and simulations are also a great option to get leaders to look toward future possibilities as they work on pressing strategic issues that impact the ‘here and now.’  The leaders who can win today and identify the emerging trends for tomorrow and adapt their business strategy to accommodate it will be the ones who can lead organizations into a healthy future. 

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