Learning is for life. That’s one of the lessons Virgin Founder Richard Branson has learnt as an entrepreneur. We couldn’t agree more, and we’re sure you couldn’t either.
In L&D we live and breathe learning. We’re advocates for it and struggle to understand why some people aren’t. Especially senior members of organisations.
But this remains a challenge in many businesses. Organisations across the globe want to enjoy growth year on year, but this needs to be supported by internal development. By getting leaders to focus on their development, and the challenges they are likely to face, growth becomes less of a dream and more of an achievable goal.
But it comes with its struggles.
Why aren’t leaders learning?
It’s safe to say you’d be hard pushed to find a CEO or Managing Director that has plenty of time on their hands. Most board members are constantly up against it with deadlines, strategy and general management to achieve KPI’s. Finding time to undertake personal and professional development is no easy task.
There’s also an argument around investment. Surely any learning investment would be better spent focussing on the cogs of the organisation – those who find and speak to customers, those who manage teams, those who recruit and induct new starters?
Why should they be?
The truth is that these are all valid points. However, most individuals look to their leaders for inspiration. They see them as role models, and see their success as a benchmark for themselves. This means an arduous task for L&D – getting the boards of organisations to lead by example with learning.
Of course, this isn’t the only benefit. We all want to be better and faster at our roles. We want to be able to identify new opportunities and discover more efficient ways of working. We want better results and to achieve targets and objectives. And this desire certainly doesn’t dissipate when you add Chief or Director to your job title.
In fact, it’s even more important. No industry is completely stagnant. New competitors will continue to emerge, technologies will challenge the way we do things and people will always move forward.
Therefore, anyone leading a successful organisation into the future will struggle if they are not self-aware or continuously improving. And how can L&D achieve that sought after pull learning culture, if our role models aren’t aspiring for the same themselves?
How can we create that hunger?
It’s not necessarily about creating buy-in from the board – it’s about creating a hunger for development. If you’re part of the L&D department, the organisation is already bought into the benefits of learning, but getting them to undertake it themselves is a whole other challenge.
There are, however, many ways leaders can learn – and set that important example – without spending time in a traditional classroom. These can be time-saving, hands on methods that may appeal to your busy senior team.
The best method will depend on the leaders as individuals, but also the challenge they are encountering. Here are some examples of ways to integrate learning into your senior development strategy.
Traditionally mentoring has been working with someone more senior to you, someone who has experienced the challenges you are experiencing, in order to help you overcome them and find your own path. However, reverse mentoring is (as it suggests) turning that on its head.
An example of use here could be new technologies. There may be extensive knowledge about certain technology the organisation is considering adopting within the business already. This could be someone senior, but it could be an entry-level member of the team. Pairing up these skills with your board could create brilliant results, as it has for United Health and Target.
Build a network! This could be within your organisation, or perhaps with partners, suppliers or any other leaders you have contact with. Social learning, although not new, is becoming increasingly popular and comes with so many additional benefits.
Leaders have the opportunity to build relationships and develop their skills exponentially.
Get out of the classroom
As I mentioned previously, self-awareness is so vital for a successful leader, however, getting leaders to even question how self-aware they are can be difficult sometimes. Getting them out of the traditional classroom with an exciting solution, such as our Leadership with Horses programme, can help them take personal accountability for their actions.
The aim of this isn’t to scare them into change, it’s to help them become even more authentic and identify and overcome areas for improvement.
We appreciate how difficult this can be for L&D to achieve – encouraging leaders to take time out to develop themselves is no easy task, but try to find an advocate on your senior team. Even if the change starts with one, you’ll be amazed at how quickly that can influence others.
Rachel Matthews, Social Media and Marketing Manager
In my blogs I will look at industry constraints and issues and problems that employees face in their day-to-day work lives.
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