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ATD Blog

Improving Our Leadership Process: Practicing What We Teach

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

In section 8 of Leading the Learning Function, ATD Forum senior leaders provide tools and techniques to enable professionals, especially those in the talent arena, to be more cognizant of how they show up and the influence they exert. This covers two areas—one is providing tools and techniques that can help any leader be more effective and efficient in “getting better at getting better” regardless of their level or role. The other is having experience with various ways to enhance the design of learning development experiences for others.

During a recent webinar, three of these leaders hosted a discussion about this topic with more than 100 participants. While they provided stories of their personal experiences and journey, the participants were invited to share ideas about several specific questions. This resulted in a rich and dynamic exchange, enabling all to learn many new options for continuing to expand their leadership capability.

Highlights of the responses to some trigger questions include:

Trigger Question #1:What have you done to assess your leadership skills to understand how you show up and are perceived by others?


Asking for feedback from peers, leaders, and stakeholders, including using 360-degree assessments and paying attention to how others respond to me, helps me with blind spots. And from there, growth areas.

Using ATD’s Talent Development Capability Model assessment, checklist, and custom planning tools.

Sending out a quarterly “share your voice” survey to my direct reports and asking them to give feedback to three questions. Once I receive responses, I review them with the entire team to ensure I understand the meaning. After the discussion, we develop one start/stop/continue that I can do over the next quarter to show up in the best way possible for them.

Participating in leadership development sessions where I have the opportunity to receive feedback about my performance

Using the question "When I walk in the room, what walks in with me?" and responding to it.

Using the Johari window model to understand myself, especially what I might not know.

Assessing all meetings and the projects by asking myself questions such as:

  • How did I influence the discussion and actions?
  • Was I inclusive of the opinions of others?
  • Did I synthesize the many ideas into cogent summary statements?

Having taken many robust assessments such as those from Hogan, I have behaviors I need to stay on top of as my leadership journey advances.

Using reflection techniques by putting myself in others’ shoes and viewing my leadership from their perspective. (Easy to say; hard to do.)

Using three coaching questions on a regular basis during check-ins and project meetings:

  • What’s working?
  • Where are we getting stuck?
  • What might we do differently to improve?

Frequently asking “Do I know what I don’t know?” and taking appropriate actions based on the response.

When requesting feedback, I ask for a picture using a question such as “What’s an analogy or metaphor for what it’s like on the other side of my leadership?” This approach makes it safe to share feedback and leads to dynamic discussions.


I’ve been studying the adaptive leadership framework created by Ron Heifetz and Marty Linksy in there 2009 book The Practice of Adaptive Leadership: Tools and Tactics for Changing Your Organization and the World. I’m differentiating between management and leadership skills.

Trigger Question #2:How are you currently upskilling to enhance your performance as a learning professional and a leader?


Using objectives and key results (OKRs), a goal management framework to enable a focus on results that matter, increased transparency, and better (strategic) alignment. It took us a bit to get the hang of it. We use OKRs to drive individual development plans with our teams.

Focusing on execution and learning from it.

Integrating resources from Brené Brown’s books and tuning into her podcasts.

Training in situational leadership, radical candor, and energy leadership and using the ideas in application plans for on-the-job.

My constant companion is Peter Northouse’s book Leadership: Theory and Practice. I learn something new every time I read it.

As an introvert, I appreciate Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking.

Stephen Covey’s work is classical leadership, especially The 8th Habit: From Effectiveness to Greatness.

Trigger Question #3:What activities have you participated in that enabled you to develop further as a leader—either planned or unplanned?


Taking ideas from ikigai, the Japanese term that means to find purpose in life. The concept uses four questions:

  • What gifts do I have, or what am I great at?
  • What is my passion, and what do I love to do?
  • What are the gaps in the world I live in?
  • What am I called to do, or what is my noble purpose?

The Venn diagram model of the four questions can be found here.


Viewing my career as a jungle gym, not as a ladder. Every five or six years, making a big move into a different arena and being “willing to suck at something new.” Moving from an expert to novice is uncomfortable and requires being willing to have a beginner’s mind.

Being willing to admit when you make a mistake and to learn from it (for example, being transparent and vulnerable).

Taking more risks by experimenting with new concepts, tools, and techniques.

Assuming new roles and responsibilities like serving as the leader of the local ATD Chapter leader community.

Incorporating the ideas from Michael Bungay Stanier’s 52 weeks of living brilliantly, which includes one new microlearning a week, from one new teacher per week, and a list of questions to reflect on to help pull through the application plans.

Annually selecting one person with skills I admire to serve as my mentor and meeting with them monthly. I plan the agenda with a goal to learn new ways of leading from them.

Trigger Question #4: What are one or two “must have skills” for talent leaders as we adjust to living in a mega VUCA world?


A service orientation or a servant leadership approach. Whatever position you are in, you are both a leader and a follower.

Business acumen. Understanding how your work translates to business results that meet the organization’s strategi objectives.

Developing others. Serving as a performance coach and mentor.

Curiosity. Having a growth mindset and intentionally using tools and techniques to pique your interest.

Empathy. Appreciating other’s position, point of view, and ideas.

Final Thoughts

What are ways you assess your leadership? How do you get better at serving others and creating an environment where they can be successful and thrive? What new capabilities are you developing? Which of these ideas will you use on your leadership journey?

*Are you joining us at ATD22 in Orlando? Be sure to join one of our two sessions on Leadership Development. There is limited seating in these sessions—RSVP to save your spot in the room.

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

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