Fools rush in.
We know this adage to be true. From a practical perspective acting with less haste allows us to think of possible consequences before we commit to action. From an emotional point of view this allows us to regulate our emotions – to recognise feelings of anger, frustration or threat – and respond in an appropriate manner rather than react rashly.
Yet in a fast paced and complex environment the emphasis is very much on execution. In such a world people get ahead by delivering tasks and meeting expectations on competence. Performance is synonymous with “getting it done”. We set goals in line with defining what performance is and is not. Knowledge acquired from training is assimilated into our current way of working as we avoid trying new things for fear of failure and not meeting those expectations. We become victims of our own success, stuck with sticking to what works, because it got us where we are today. We don’t make time for curiosity and we operate out of a mantra of “bring me solutions, not problems”, closing down the possibilities for finding a different way, for discussion and debate, for innovation.
Pause: Communication takes place in the silence.
We know great communicators pause when they are speaking. This gives the listener time to process, time to absorb the knowledge and decide what they feel about it. We won’t remember the words, but we will remember what we felt about them. A pause gives the speaker time to observe the audience, to make eye contact, to engage and to prepare what – and how – they are going to deliver the next idea. They have spent time beforehand thinking about their audience, the unspoken questions and their needs, and speak to those needs. A pause allows the listener to process ideas – silence enables communication to take place.
For leaders of the future, ones operating with an enterprise-wide focus, we need to create space to think and learn.
In an era of “anyone can lead”, we can no longer wait for leadership to be conferred upon us through position; for the tap on the shoulder to invite you onto a talent programme. If anyone can lead, then everyone has to take responsibility for learning how to. And why wouldn’t you want to develop skills to enable innovation, to influence others, to have greater impact on those around you? Taking responsibility for your own learning means engaging with experiences differently. We need to create a pause, to draw away from delivery and performance mode, and into learning mode.
Pause: To learn, we must start by stopping and reflecting.
Moving away from delivery mode means altering our thinking away from proving competence or avoiding failure. We need to focus on learning new skills. We do this by reflecting on our experiences, and then assessing our impact on others. Only then can we define our true learning priorities and identify key actions we will take to help us learn, to improve.
Learning by doing – Action Learning involves 4 key steps:
1. Reflection on Experiences. We all have experiences, but not all of us choose to learn from them. Reflection involves recreating an accurate picture of what happened, to probe cause and effect. To think through the actions not taken in a situation and effect if they had been taken. To draw conclusions about lessons learned.
2. Set Learning Goals. Having identified lessons learned, this process is identifying specific and accurate objectives for building your impact. These can be “create space for innovation” or “build my capability to influence others”. Once set, the support required can be quickly identified, and knowledge rapidly acquired.
3. Active Experimentation. This is identifying and committing to do things differently. Along with identifying the action, this is the time to determine success criteria, evidence to be generated. With an orientation towards learning and not performance, this encourages us to try different things.
4. Feedback Seeking. All of us have a gap between our intention and our impact. We all have inherent biases that mean we see the world differently. Having a critical friend or mentor gives us alternative perspectives on our impact. They also provide us with a platform to bounce ideas off of. Essentially, we need to create data to provide us with the accurate picture to help us reflect.
A key shift we achieve in doing this is creating a sense of agency – a renewed belief in our capacity for changing the context in which we operate. This is different from traditional learning methods where the focus is on the acquisition of new skills or knowledge in isolation. To be truly successful – to bring about a sustained change in behaviour – the learner must be enabled to shift their context, bring change to how they and others operate.