The Key to Lasting Leadership: Ongoing Learning Opportunities

By Bruce Court

Time is a scarce commodity, especially for leaders. With only 480 minutes in the workday, it’s difficult to decide what to take on and defer.

While many organizations aim to make time for leaders’ development, leaders often struggle to fit it in with other responsibilities. Teaching leaders to take ownership of their learning can be an important step organizations either miss or struggle to do well.

Some provide leadership development content and expect leaders to study with little to no buy-in. With minimal management support or reinforcement, this leads to disappointing results.

How hard can it be to teach leaders to take ownership of their learning and development?

There are a few barriers to overcome:
• ensuring leaders understand the importance of development and how it relates to business goals
• creating and maintaining the right learning conditions.

Hiring or promoting leaders with a growth mindset is an essential first step. It’s also important to accept that leaders differ in learning preferences, such as:

  • thinking alone, where leaders study, observe, and plan before taking on a new activity
  • thinking with others, which means getting people’s ideas before trying something new
  • acting alone by plunging into a new activity independently rather than studying it in advance
  • acting with others, which means acting rather than contemplating when learning new things and relying on people for feedback and advice.

DDI’s 2018 Global Leadership Forecast determined there are 19 learning methods for developing leaders. But are these the correct methods? It asked what they needed to help them learn, and data consistently showed all learners preferred:

  • personalized learning experiences.
  • coaching from external mentors
  • formal workshops, training courses, and seminars.

There is a three-step process for teaching leaders to take ownership. A key to self-sufficiency is providing appropriate levels of development, enabling them to capitalize on their motivation to learn, their understanding of how they learn best, and their needs.

In DDI’s development process, leaders are introduced to the assess, acquire, and apply phases:

  • Assess enables leaders to identify skills, knowledge, or abilities that are strengths or growth areas to focus on areas to move work forward, build future potential, and meet key job responsibilities.
  • Acquire is when leaders plan how to obtain the chosen skills, knowledge, or competencies. Remembering learning styles of leaders and their specific needs helps identify learning methods to help them learn best. The best results occur when using a combination of learning approaches. Identify possible barriers that could prevent or hinder learning and provide support.
  • Apply is where leaders identify opportunities to use newly acquired skills, knowledge, or competencies in current job responsibilities or future projects. Make each application opportunity progressive. Incrementally build skills to enhance competence and boost confidence. Set measurement methods to gauge progress and outcomes. Identify possible barriers, support, or resources to successfully apply skills.

All this work may come to nothing unless organizations maintain an environment that sustains appropriate levels of support, coaching, and feedback. Some of the best practices include to:

  • Encourage accountability.
  • Offer support.
  • Create a development plan.
  • Measure progress.
  • Use social media to sustain learning and development.
  • Address barriers and overcome them.
  • Provide feedback.
  • Celebrate successful instances of leaders developing themselves or their people.

Teaching leaders to take ownership of their learning and applying it is one piece of the puzzle. Learn about the other puzzle pieces at DDI's blog.

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