7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – Number 4: Encourage Learning

If you ever get to a stage in your career when you think “I’ve arrived”, you stop learning … and it’s obviously important that leaders at all levels don’t do this. Perhaps more to the point, it’s crucial that leaders act as ROLE MODELS for learning and development, in order to embed it throughout the organisation.

Cynics amongst you might think “Well she would say that –she’s in training and development!”  and I guess there’s an element of truth in that: but I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t believe passionately that it’s important, both to individuals and to businesses.

Here are three things to do with learning that I believe that leaders could do better– whatever size of business they’re in.

1) Elevate the status of learning

I’ve written before about whether people approach training to build a person and their skills (i.e. in a positive and proactive sense) or whether they use it to fix problems (i.e. in a remedial, reactive sense).

If training and development are seen as remedial measures, people are less likely to be motivated to learn – either on training courses OR, more importantly, in their own time and in terms of their own personal development. Almost across the board, that whole personal development area is a huge learning opportunity that companies are missing.

As a leader, making it obvious that you yourself are on a learning journey, passing on some of the things you’ve learned and referencing books, courses, online resources and so on will help raise the importance of ongoing learning within the company.

Put bluntly, if you and your people aren’t learning, they’re remaining in ignorance … and that’s not going to bring you a commercial edge.

 2) Condone the enjoyment of learning

Learning is serious business … but it doesn’t have to be a mirthless drudge of lectures, powerpoint presentations and manuals the size of building blocks.

Years of research in both the training and development and education sectors point to the fact that the brain absorbs information (i.e. learns)  through the five senses, amongst other factors, and that by far the most people learn best through auditory, visual AND haptic means.

I was working for an organisation a few years back which approved a very interactive, innovative series of workshops for junior staff, but insisted that senior managers at the same organisation needed a more ‘serious’ approach.

They seemed to somehow be suggesting that once you  get a  ‘senior manager’ plaque on the door, you suddenly lose your sense of humour and personality and more to the point, lose your ability to learn by any other means than didactic instruction.  This of course, contradicts both academic and medical research … to say nothing of common sense. Do senior managers enjoy boring training courses any more than the rest of us?! I doubt it!

Of COURSE content needs to be tailored to the level of the participant group. Delivery methods, though, need to be as engaging as possible in order to be interesting and relevant to learners.

It should be remembered that people learn more when they are relaxed and enjoying themselves. And there’s no age or management limit to that.

 3) Support the implementation of learning

So! Someone comes back from a training course, full of ideas, keen to test out some of their new found skills! What happens next:

a) Hurray! The company already has a learning system in place, and with the full support of their managers and colleagues they successfully build confidence in implementing their new skills until they become habit, modelling positive behaviours and practices in the process.

b) They have a stab at some of the techniques from the course that they’re more comfortable with, stash the course manual in a drawer somewhere, and remember to tick that training course off on their performance management checklist.

c) They try one of their new techniques and their manager /colleague jibes “Oh, well we can see that YOU’VE been on the training course!” leaving them somewhat crestfallen and reluctant to try to implement anything else they’ve learned.

Clearly individual leaders can have an impact on the level and extent to which they provide an environment where learning and trying new skills is the norm, and where practice is monitored and encouraged, and many already do this.

It can be easier, though to assume that people will come back from a training course or other learning intervention and just ‘get on with it’, without recognising how the environment can affect the extent to which this is done.

Leaders who continue to learn inspire others in the organisation to do the same. Leaders who recognise when other people are learning and coach and encourage them to persevere in implementing their newskills are taking HUGE steps to develop a learning culture.

And why bother? In the words of the Chinese proverb  “Learning is like rowing upstream: not to advance is to drop back”.

And who wants their own career, their department or their company to do that?


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3 Responses to “7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop – Number 4: Encourage Learning”

  1. GC Says:

    I like all your points and thinking Anna.. However, the issue about learning isn’t just about the delivery of it or the attitude of senior managers to it but it’s the desire to learn in the first place that defines whether the foundation of how seriously people take it or how they approach the task that in my experience, makes the real difference. Yes we have all been on boring the pants off you training seminars from people who patronise you and talk down to you but as far as on the job training is concerned the person has to see the bigger picture of why learning can truly help them. There has to be a benefit or it is training for training’s sake. So often we don’t take the time to dig into the motivation and aspirations of the individual and try too often to make one size training fit everyone. Leaders at all levels within the business need to take a little more time with the individual and find out more about their drivers and then, and only them, tailor something that will deliver a tangible benefit to their working lives and the organisation itself. Just a thought!

    • AnnabelleB Says:

      You’re absolutely right, Gordon it IS down to the individuals willingness – and indeed readiness- to learn.

      As this mini-series is focusing on leadership, that’s why I’ve taken this slant. Don’t get me wrong – a huge number of leaders are active role models for learning and development on a daily basis: I’ve worked with many. Some, though, have yet to recognise that the tone they set can and does impact on learning levels elsewhere in their organisation… even on those who are keen to learn, who can be held back… and this is a huge opportunity missed. For this latter group, staff learning and development is viewed as an expense and not and investment, so it often doesn’t happen.

      I couldn’t agree more with your comment on ‘one size fits all’ training. If you’re not cognisant of the needs of individuals (as well as the organisation itself) both at the design and delivery stages of a learning intervention, you’re on a very sticky wicket indeed when it comes to achieving learning objectives.

  2. Malik Mirza Says:

    Dear Annabelle; Interesting read

    I would like to add that the first thing which we need is the mindset to learn and to apply what you learn. Other things are quite secondary. It also counts upon the objective of learning. Organizational learning might be different from personal learning.



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