How should leaders learn for the future?

by Alan Hosking: Publisher of HR Future, South Africa's human strategy magazine, and a Leadership Renewal Coach for senior executives.
Like everything else we know and love, learning is not what it used to be. There was a time when we saw learning as something quite simple – the acquisition of knowledge, facts and information. You know, the kind of thing we were expected to do at school.

But it’s become blindingly clear, in light of the recent monumental failure of leadership development programmes to deliver genuinely future-fit leaders, that there is something wrong with the way people – more specifically adults – learn.

Effective learning is not only necessary for an individual or a business entity to thrive in the future, it’s downright necessary for them to actually survive.

It’s therefore time for us to take a hard look at new ways of learning.

Get this: the way young people learn at school is not an effective way for adults to learn. Youngsters learn in order to acquire knowledge, and that’s an important part of becoming a functional human being. You do have to simply know certain stuff in order to make it through life.

The problem is that the needs of adults are different, particularly adults who need to learn how to be effective leaders.

And to be an effective leader, one of the things you need to know is how to change behaviour – your own, and that of others. If you can’t do that, you’re useless as a leader. Until fairly recently, leaders had no need for this. They were able to get by on a “command and control” approach to leadership. With this approach, it wasn’t necessary to know how to change behaviour. You simply told people what to do and they had to do it.

Leaders also got by on what we know as “leadership skills” – skills that taught them how to DO certain things.

With the world having been turned upside down in a matter of weeks early in 2020 – if someone had told you late 2019 that, in a few months’ time, about 80% of the world’s workforce would be working from their own homes, you would have simply laughed in their face – there was suddenly a need for a new type of leader. Instead of leaders who had the skills to DO things and issue commands, we had a need for leaders who could also BE certain things – authentic, empathetic, compassionate, understanding, intuitive, inclusive and collaborative, among other things.

That meant leaders, instead of simply acquiring certain skills, had to acquire certain qualities. Now you don’t learn to acquire qualities through training because training involves the imparting of knowledge and information.

And here’s the kicker, knowledge and information don’t change behaviour.

With apologies to smokers … Do smokers know that smoking is bad for their health? You bet they do. Do they know that smoking causes cancer? Of course they do. Does that make them stop smoking? Of course not. That’s because simply knowing something doesn’t change behaviour.

What DOES change behaviour is insight – when someone SEES something they haven’t seen before or when they see something in a way they haven’t seen it before. That’s when they have a moment of enlightenment. And when that happens, the person having the moment of enlightenment starts making all the changes they need to make in themselves. No-one else has to force them to make those changes, no-one has to give them refresher courses.

The kind of learning that is needed today therefore requires more than just the imparting of information. It requires the intentional and skilled imparting of insight to enable leaders to start acquiring the qualities they desperately need to lead their people through these tumultuous times.

Personal experience over the past decade of applying an insight-based approach to learning in my Leadership Development and other Programmes has more than convinced me of the necessity and effectiveness of this way of learning. I am not interested in people, after having participated in one of my programmes, saying to me, I now know.” I want them to rather say, “I now see.”

The beauty of it all is that, once a person “sees” something, they never “unsee” it.

So, the question is: can you now see the necessity to change from an information-driven approach to learning to an insight-driven approach? If and when you do, you will start making key changes in your own behaviour and influencing those you lead to make changes in theirs. And that’s the essence of effective leadership!

Useful resources:
HR Future
HR Future is South Africa's only independent, most forward thinking human resource magazine with the richest content wealth of HR related issues on the continent of Africa to help executives recruit, manage, train, reward and retain the best talent.
Share on Twitter Share on LinkedIn Share on Facebook
Share via Email
©2022 SURREAL. All rights reserved.
Follow us on Twitter Follow us on LinkedIn Join us on Facebook