Posts Tagged ‘workplace learning’

7 Leadership skills that EVERYONE should develop: number 6 – leverage others

August 8, 2011

One of the marks of a strong leader is his or her ability to leverage the talents of others in order to reach organisational (and individual) goals. Leadership isn’t about knowing (or doing) it all yourself, it’s about enabling others to learn, grow, contribute and achieve excellence.

1) Know your people
I hardly need to say that unless you know your people, you’re not going to know where their talents lie and therefore you’re not going to be able to leverage them.  How well do you know your team, what motivates them at work, their out-of-work interests and so on?

A participant on a course I was delivering recently told me about a team member of his who was terrified of public speaking. Common enough, you might think. However, the course participant knew that this individual sang in a band in his spare time and regularly performed in local venues at the weekend.

Using the rationale that if you can SING in front of a crowd of people you can speak in front of them too, he coached and encouraged the singer to transfer his skills to the public speaking arena … with conspicuous success.

Had he NOT made the effort to get to know his team, this vital talent – and its link to the workplace – might have been missed.

2) Look beyond the obvious
It’s all too easy to focus on the obvious, to pigeonhole people according to their job title and to assume that, because of the work they do, they’re going to be good … or conversely NOT going to be good … at certain things. Look beyond the obvious, though, for hidden and unexpected talents.

I used to work in an organisation where, in the marketing department, we were frequently required to come up with catchy titles for performances, projects and publications.

Whilst it was well outside his remit, someone who we’d often ask for input was the Finance Officer. Why? Because he had a knack for coming up with great titles and captions and had a way with words.

If we’d pigeonholed him as the number cruncher who held the purse strings (which of course he WAS … but there was more to him than that) we’d have missed out on some great headlines. I’d like to think too that he enjoyed being asked to contribute to something that wasn’t directly linked to his job role, but was still of benefit to the organisation as a whole.

3) Don’t value your skills above everyone else’s
This is a bit of a lesson in self-awareness and humility, both of which have a role to play in leadership. Many people, whether they realise it or not, will place their own skills at a higher value than those of others.

To the creative person who loves coming up with new ideas, the logical pragmatist is “boring and conventional”.  To the strategic realist, someone with strong people skills is “touchy feely”.  To the ‘blue sky’ thinker, the person who needs to establish a context is “stuck in the past”.

If you are to leverage the skills of others successfully, you must recognise them for the values that they bring, and not undervalue them because those values might be different to yours.

At the end of the day, leadership and leveraging the abilities of others isn’t actually about you … it’s about them, and about the business as a whole.


Recognising, valuing and leveraging the skills of others is something that requires us all to leave our egos at the door and give ourselves the challenge of looking for people who aren’t just LIKE us and able to ‘fit in’, but who are BETTER than us at a given thing, and who will provide the necessary challenge to move everyone up a notch. And that’s not always as easy as it sounds.


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

July 9, 2011

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?

Unlock your hidden creativity – 3 key steps to getting it back again

April 30, 2011

 Creativity and innovation are what give a company its competitive edge… so how come the idea of ‘creativity at work’ can sometimes feel like a contradiction in terms?

Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll be sharing 3 key ways of uncovering your creative potential, as an individual or organisation. You DO have it… you just might have lost sight of it.

Before I start, an acknowledgment: I have my friend, the artist Blythe Scott  (at ), to thank as the inspiration behind this blog series: in addition to creating her own remarkable paintings, she also teaches people to draw, and it’s from THIS, together with my own research and the work of acknowledged experts in the field of creativity, that these insights have come.

Step 1.   “Turn the Chair Upside Down”

I’ve got no hand–eye co-ordination, and I simply CANNOT draw. I can’t replicate the 3D image I see in front of me on a flat piece of paper… for nearly 40 years, that’s what I thought. Yet in the last 2 months, I’ve learned to draw in a way I never thought I could.

I’ve heard many people over the years say that they are not creative, and whilst this is their genuine perception, it’s simply not true. They ARE creative.

Two things to bear in mind :

a) some people will be more ‘creative’ than others, and

b) ‘creativity’ does NOT equate to talent in the arts – it manifests itself in many different ways. Companies and individuals want to be ‘creative’ – they don’t all want to be artists or performers.

So what if you’re ‘not very creative’ and you want to be?

One of the things I remember Blythe saying a while back is that if someone who “can’t draw” turns a chair upside down, they are more likely to be able to draw it accurately.

Far from just being a metaphor for taking a different perspective in order to be creative, there’s some science behind this.

Understand that even in creativity, there is science. It’s not a dangerous free-for-all state of chaos to be feared or contained.

In her book ‘How to draw with the right side of the brain’ (lent to me by Blythe!) Betty Edwards explains that with most “non-artists” after about the age of 10, the logical left side of the brain dominates. It will look at a chair, face or house and say “Ah yes, a chair / face / house. I know what a chair / face/ house looks like” and draws not the thing it sees, but its own remembered symbol for a chair / face/ house.

People who “can’t draw” are probably drawing like ten year olds, because this is what happens.

Turn the chair or the image upside down, though, and the left brain doesn’t have a stored symbol for an upside-down chair or face or whatever, so the right brain kicks in and draws what is actually in front of it, resulting in a much more accurate drawing.

Accept the paradox that looking at some things creatively – not logically – can result in a more accurate, better quality result.

 Another factor explained by Edwards is that right brain creative work is very absorbing. It’s easy to get into a state of ‘flow’, or be ‘in the zone’ and lose track of time. Some people might have issues with ‘letting go’ in this way.

Be prepared to give creativity time, and to ‘go with the flow’. Experiment, test, try.

I’ve tried this ‘upside down’ technique with line drawings, furniture and photos… and it works. Drawing isn’t just about hand-eye co-ordination, as I’d thought for years. It’s about learning to see things in a different way. Now that I know how to see things in a different way, I no longer have to turn them upside down every time.

Understand that to be creative, you have to challenge yourself to see things in a different way, and from a different angle.

Have a go yourself. If you “can’t draw”, take a simple image or a chair, turn it upside down, and focus on what you SEE, not what you think you know is there. See what happens. To be honest, if the result is NOT an improvement on your usual ability to draw, you’ve either allowed some left brain interpretation in there and taken your eye off the image itself, or you’ve become a slave to time and rushed it.

Consider your own field of work. Where’s the metaphor here? Is there a process that’s existed for years that you can ‘view upside down’ in order to see it more clearly? A product perhaps? A behaviour pattern that’s just ‘the way things are’ that can actually be challenged?

If you remain sceptical about your own creative ability, think about small children and they way they draw, play and create in a very uninhibited way. ALL kids, given the chance and barring disabilities which might prevent it, will do this… even the ones who end up as lawyers and corporate strategists.

Somewhere along the line, through education, social factors and other things, their emphasis shifts from the creative to the logical.

But guess what? In my training programmes (which use a variety of creative methods) as soon as people are ‘allowed’ and ‘encouraged’ to be creative, or are given no option BUT to be creative, they can all do it. They can all contribute creatively in their own way. Some might feel awkward at first if they’re not used to it, but that’s natural. Given the right encouragement and environment and a mandate to be creative, people can. They just can. Without exception.

Allow yourself to think in a childlike way (NOTE – childlike, not childish – there’s a BIG difference).

Allow yourself to put aside the comfort blanket of left-brain logic and ‘go with the flow’… you’re only thinking, and no one’s going to get hurt!

Allow yourself to be creative: stop telling yourself that you’re not, start telling yourself that you’re re-discovering your creative abilities. And then do something different to prove it to yourself.

Next time,   I’ll be looking at your creative versus your editor brain, and how to make the most of both… so watch this blog space for Step 2!

Change without difference

February 28, 2011

Is there such a thing as change without difference? No. Of course not.

I can’t help feeling, though, that many organisations around the world rather wish that this WAS the case. Mediocre and even fairly well-performing companies look with envious eyes at the truly innovative, and wish they could enjoy a similar success… but seem unwilling to go through the necessary shake up to make it happen.

 How many organisations do you know or have you worked for where the clarion cry is for creativity, innovation, doing things differently, challenging the status quo, improving products and services… only to find that, once you scratch beneath the surface, what’s actually wanted is stability, familiarity, maintenance?

What if more organisations opened themselves up – even tentatively – to genuinely doing things differently: not inviting chaos and disruption, but encouraging facilitated innovation and change, and carefully monitoring the results to ensure and capture the benefits?

How much more productive could we be?

Are there any organisations out there prepared to do something different  (that’s ‘different’ and not ‘recycled’ or ‘reinvented’) …without coming up with a string of excuses as to why it can’t be done?

Why does training fail?

November 25, 2010

Imagine you were doing a bit of DIY in your garage  – putting up a few new shelves, lets say. Mid-way through your project, you went out and bought some new tools.  Rather than unwrapping them as soon as you got home and set to work using them, you thought to yourself “No. I’ll leave them in their packaging and save them until I’m doing a really important DIY job in the house.”

Unlikely, eh? You’d probably want to practise a bit in the garage before heading into the house to do something important and highly visible with  said new tools.

Funnily enough, a pattern of behaviour I’ve noticed a LOT is for training participants to earmark newly learned techniques and skills for a ‘special occasion’…rather than look to put them into practise as soon as possible. 

Using a specific skill set and structure to deliver feedback, for example – a very useful tool indeed – often seems to be put aside for a one-to-one meeting, or a performance review. Active listening skills will be tried out ‘in my next departmental meeting’.  Assertive body language will be attempted ‘when I give my next presentation’.

Two things here: the longer you leave implementation after the end of the training programme (or any new knowledge acquisition) the less likely that implementation is to actually happen. Those new learning tools will stay in their packaging on the garage shelf.

The second thing is….why wait until a crucial moment to bring those skills out? Doesn’t it make more sense to practice in low risk, everyday situations  before embarking on that highly visible front-room project where everyone is going to see the results?

Pick something you’ve learned. Practice the day after your course. Heck, practise on your friends, your family, your dog, on the evening after you’ve finished your course. 

Do something. Test it out. Refine it. So when the big moment comes, you’ll be ready and able, and not looking blankly at a shiny new tool still in its packaging, wondering what to do with it.

Building a Learning Organisation

October 7, 2010

Maybe the first question should be “So what exactly IS a ‘Learning Organisation ??” It does, after all , sound like the sort of consultant jargon that’s wheeled out to impress people without fully knowing what it is.

Well, ask yourself this: how much EASIER would managing performance, delivering innovation, creative thinking, analysis and strategy development and generally moving a company forward be if everyone in the organisation was open to a culture of learning and change? If PERSONAL development and continued learning was an accepted norm amongst employees…rather than being signed up for the odd training course?

Happily, there’s been a lot of research in this area (Donald Schon, Chris Argyris, Peter Senge etc etc) which defines far more accurately what we’re talking about here.

From the grass roots perspective of  someone who’s devised and  / or delivered a range of learning programmes in a wide variety of organisations large and small, the obvious factors that an organisation needs to consider are:

TO ELEVATE THE STATUS OF LEARNING:  this requires some leadership from senior management (who, after all, are not omniscient!) …and some sincerity. An ‘I’ve arrived’ mentality at senior level is usually coupled with a ‘do what I say, not what I do’ approach to learning and development, which doesn’t work. People can see right through it, and will copy senior management actions rather than instructions when push comes to shove. 

Disrespect for HR and Learning and Development departments doesn’t help here, neither does a culture where workplace learning is seen as corrective or remedial.

TO CONDONE THE ENJOYMENT OF LEARNING:  I try very hard NOT to work with organisations who insist on a ‘death by powerpoint’ , didactic approach to learning.  I’ve even had one look at some photos from one of my training course and remark that ‘it ought to be toned down a bit – it looks like they’re having too much fun’ .  How boring. How uninspiring. How UNlikely to motivate someone to want to learn and grow more.

YES, the outcomes are serious,and business objectives must be met:  but if people can enjoy and engage with the learning experience, it is more likely to have a lasting impact in the workplace…and lead to continued learning and growth.

SUPPORTING THE IMPLEMENTATION OF LEARNING: this should involve some effort to shift the culture of an organisation. It’s a bit pointless, for example, sending people on creative thinking or assertiveness courses, and then having them come back to a stagnant work environment that tells them to shut up and get on with the same old same old.

So, who really DOES want a culture of learning and growth in their organisation?  Because that could mean some changes in attitude and mindset…