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Leadership Today - Practical Tips For Leaders

May 15, 2020


When have you learned the most at work? I bet it wasn’t sitting in a training course. In this week’s podcast we look at the four best ways to learn at work.



Hello and welcome to episode 78 of the Leadership Today podcast where each week we tackle one of today’s biggest leadership challenges. This week we look at the four best ways to learn at work.

When have you learned the most at work? Was it sitting in a training course? Probably not. We usually learn best through stretching assignments where we are placed outside our comfort zone, with a supportive leader and team around us. We often try to add learning to work. However it is far better to learn through our work.

Charles Jennings has long championed this approach to learning. He believes we should focus on extracting learning from the work we do, rather than adding learning on top of our work. We should therefore focus more on performance metrics rather than learning metrics. Our performance is the key measure of our learning. We have learned something new when we can demonstrate it, not when we can restate it. And that learning should flow through to our performance on the job. 

Charles outlines four drivers of learning. Let’s step through each of those in turn, along with some practical examples.

The first driver of learning is exposure to rich and challenging experiences. As leaders we need to delegate important and challenging work to our people. From a development perspective, we can’t wait until we’re 100% confident that someone can deliver before we delegate. People learn through opportunities to be stretched. Delegation is not about short-term efficiency. Whenever you delegate, there is always going to be a short-term drop in performance. The key is to provide support and encouragement to help people push through the discomfort of learning. 

The second driver of learning Charles Jennings identifies is the opportunity to practice. To learn, we need some freedom to experiment and try things out. We recently shifted a face-to-face leadership program to an online format. The facilitation team had varying levels of experience and comfort in delivering online. Most, including me, had never delivered a multiple day program in this way. So part of the learning process was to practice and experiment with the platform. We encouraged people to use the platform to catch up with family and friends - to just play with the technology in a real setting. That meant the occasional drop out and technical issue, but it’s much better to have those in a practice session than during the real thing. No amount of online how-to videos could have equated to the learning of actually practicing using the platform.

The third driver of learning is participation in rich conversations and networks. It is really important to have people to share ideas and feedback with. I have always sought to be part of small groups of people for the purposes of learning. As a leader I encourage you to connect people together from across the organisation to form learning groups. Such peer learning opportunities are really powerful as people have the chance to coach and learn from each other with a focus on real work.

The fourth driver is spaces for reflection. In order to maximise our learning we need time to reflect while we are working, and time away from the work to reflect as well. Let’s be honest - no one is going to mandate or schedule that reflection time for you. You need to set aside time yourself to reflect. But you can encourage your team members to spend time reflecting. It’s great to ask people about what they can do now that they couldn’t do a month ago. That will encourage people to reflect back on just how much they have learned. Without reflection, we often miss the opportunity to consolidate what we have learned.

These past few months have been a massive opportunity to learn through our work. With millions of people thrown into working remotely, we’ve all had to learn on the run. That might have included figuring out how to unmute ourselves on Zoom, or how to structure our days when working from home, or working out how to lead people remotely. To make the most of this globally enforced learning opportunity, it’s important to continue to stretch ourselves, to practice, to discuss what we’re learning with others, and to take the time to reflect on what we have learned. And, as leaders, we need to encourage and support out people to do the same. That way we will emerge with even greater capability and capacity as individuals and organisations. 



Charles Jennings - The Four Ways Adults Learn : Learning Technologies 2013