The growth of the learning professional role - be it specialist, consultant, trainer, or coordinator is an incredibly large growth curve with a multitude of extraneous variables that inevitably challenge the confidence and credibility of the learning professionals. Most learning professionals navigate relationships with frontline new employees, to front line managers and at times all the way to c-suite professionals who leverage learning professionals for cultural and strategic impact. The point is - there is a very broad scope in which relationships are critical to accomplishing the needs of the team and organization.
For a leader to partner with learning professionals to help accomplish their team needs, there typically has to be some level of trust and credibility built with that learning professional or the learning department. However, even the learning professionals still have to manage their perception or self-brand in that relationship.
This is a point where the learning professional truly has a unique role in an organization as they are built for teams and center on teamwork, yet they are independent in that they carry a brand necessary for confidentiality and closeness to the leaders' strategy and strength skillset. This requires a sense of an ability to work in paradox, which arguably is a skillset that GREAT learning professionals possess. The ability to work in paradox successfully requires the mastering of relationships and political savvy as priorities are weighed against each other and the learning professional advocates for each competing priority. It is a struggle to develop this without having an executive presence in the room.
Suzanne Bates (2013) defined executive presence as, "the blending of temperament, competencies, and skills that, when combined send all the right signals." Bates further states that executive presense occurse through three dimensions: (1) style; (2) substance; and (3) character. For the purposes of this blog and how to begin creating executive presence in the training team, this blog will focus on the character dimension.
Character is a trendy word, and often times over simplified as something habitual; however, the people that truly undrestand the depths of the construct "character" hold a more personal attachment to the construct. To understand one's character is to reflect on and intimately know one's own values, priorities, ethics, and mission. There is an art to portraying these character traits effectively which is branding, but first these must be known. Learning professionals can do this through a few methods.
Mission: Remember all the boring exercises that were done in universities where there was this heavy focus on writing a mission statement? Well, those can still be boring if not applied in the right sense; however, when applied correctly it becomes the cornerstone of your presence. As a learning professional, this reflection looks like, "Why am I a trainer? Why did I enter this profession? What do I care about most with Training? What do I INTEND to accomplish through training - both on a small scale and large scale?" The learning professional should have this thought really lined out.
If the conclusion is superficial such as "I like helping people learn," then a couple of follow-up thoughts should be considered: (1) there should be more reflection and more of a focus on the philosophical reasoning for education; (2) the scope of the work might be best in a limited manner meaning the work could quickly become overwhelming when needs analysis shows multiple complex issues arising; and (3) Does my mission truly inspire me and do I find myself inspiring others through this?
Values: Values should be looked at as non-negotiable qualities that frame the principles (rules) we govern ourselves by. This had a pretty big trend in the 2010's and may continue through the 20's; however, in the organizational learning profession, there isn't a large library of what to do with these. This type of training typically exists in parts of emotional intelligence and mindfulness trainings, or through coaching efforts, but not often outside of those. It is generally enjoyed in the classroom, but doesn't move from there often either. The unique thing about values is they are incredibly visible and can become incredibly appealing in an individual in and out of the workplace.
Values can be determined through various ways. Some people can reflect on values and know what they are such as courage, humility, happiness, etc. Others might not know that level of themselves and may need to exercise the introspection to determine these values. There is a concept of "core" values which are typically few and are truly the non-negotiable qualities. Identifying these can be done through a recalling a story when you had to make an incredibly difficult decision and it kept you up late stressing. What in that decision was making things so difficult? This can either be shared with others and ask them to write down what they think was the core struggle, or captured in the reflection process.
Leadership Style: Leaderships styles should really begin being explored for learning professionals as they begin their journey in this career. Even for people who have been learning professionals and don't know their leadership style should take the time to learn that. There is always an awkward point for learning professionals as they regulalry advise people in management who may not understand that leadership and management are not the same, thus they do not see learning professionals as leaders. Knowing one's leadership style allows this information to be filtered and applied in the correct context for how partnerships work with various leaders. There are various assessments that exists for leadership styles and plenty of free ones on the web.
The combination of the mission and values create the character, and the leadership style of the learning professional is a vehicle in which those pieces can be effectively communicated through dialogue, manner, discourse, and thought therein creating the essence of executive presence. This part is the cornerstone to executive presence and ensure the format is built properly on a solid foundation. The other dimensions do nothing to hold themselves if the character is not solidly established. From this point, the "substance" can be established properly.
A followership point:
I do most of my research on followership and have found that to be the biggest contributor to my career growth as well as professional development and maturation. When I talk with leaders about team focus, I blend in thoughts from a follower. What do I need to look for in a leader to follow their instruction? I openly tell them, "I want to look at this from a followership lens and lets understand that. We all navigate in and out of leadership just as we would do the same for followership." Organizations were more open to trusting me and followers gravitated to the ability to navigate between leadership and followership. Just the knowledge of distinction between these is appealing to most people.
All of this is useless though without the firm foundation of knowing my mission, values, and leadership styles. As people are intrigued, they begin to learn more about you. I want people to know my values and what I stand for and strive to accomplish, so this becomes very much a visible part of who I am. I also want to know these things about the people I serve as it leads to more depth in relationships, so I take the time to ask these types of questions or attend these facilitated activies to better align how I serve those people.