Leadership is a lot like swimming (apparently)...

Posted 21 Feb 2018 | Blog | HR & Leadership | Partnerships

Key to my role at Pilotlight is learning about the latest and emerging trends in Talent Development, so I can be sure that our programmes continue to provide our Business Partners with relevant and effective development opportunities. Prior to this position, I’d spent most of my career in engagement roles within Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). So getting under the skin of future thinking within Learning and Development (L&D) is high on my agenda. 

It was with both my personal and professional development hats on last month, that I attended an event organised by the CIPD South East Scotland Branch exploring ‘Workforce Development - The Changing World’. It was my first CIPD event and I had a fantastic experience. Central to the agenda was looking at the changing world of L&D: How will things look in the next 10 years? What will change? What will stay the same? How will new technologies be incorporated? What will become the new emerging priorities? It was a fascinating topic for my first exposure into this area, and really got me thinking. The question I kept coming back to was how do we create learning opportunities that are effective, efficient and engaging, that also fit into the changing professional landscape, and the ever-increasing priority to support staff wellbeing and responsible business?

One term that I keep coming across is ‘experiential learning’. I’m always keen to avoid the latest overused buzz word -I worked for London2012 during the reign of the word ‘Legacy’- so I wanted to explore what this phrase actually means, and whether or not it was just jargon. As you’re probably aware, in essence, experiential learning is learning through real life experience in real time – meaning its lessons are current, topical, changing and personalised. Really, it’s a grand term for an old truth. Looking at the tried and tested 70:20:10 framework for L&D (where 70% of our learning should come from experience, 20% from exposure, and 10% from formal learning), it’s another push to get us away from researching at our desks and reading feedback from our managers, and get staff learning by doing.

When looking further into the topic, and discovering more about the future of L&D, it seems that departments should be actively cultivating this form of learning. One major reason behind this is quite simple – our attention spans are reducing at a rather alarming rate. A study referenced in an article in The Telegraph showed that the average human attention span fell from 12 seconds in 2000 (around the time of the mobile revolution) to just eight by 2015, and I’m sure in the last three years its fallen again. The age of smart phones and digital technology has undoubtedly had an effect on how we learn, and will continue to do so. L&D programmes need to consider that to continue to be effective.

Experiential learning has a major part to play in supporting this change. Bridging the gap between theory and practice; having the ability to change outlook and attitude; and being an active, engaging, social experience. My research on the subject brought me across a quote from Henry Mintzberg which describes this simply and perfectly "leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it".

As soon as I found this quote something clicked for me. Over the past few months, I’ve been trying to find a way to succinctly convey the essence of the programmes we offer to prospective Business Partners and now I’ve found it! One of the key outcomes of our programmes is that participants develop their leadership skills (just like if you’re learning to swim) through doing. They actively contribute to teams who are working together as coaches to guide a charity CEO through the challenges they face. Like swimming, if you’re to grow as a leader you need to have as much exposure as possible to opportunities that test your strengths, and work through moments of challenge. What is more, as our programmes are charity focused we also provide an answer to the now well documented desire amongst employees to use their professional skills to elicit social value. Our programmes are truly experiential learning opportunities and they do good. It’s a win-win.

As I continue to learn more about Talent Development, the opportunities and challenges that the future holds, my interest in the sectors changing landscape will, I’m sure, continue to grow. I’m already really looking forward to exploring this topic further at the CIPD Scotland Annual Conference next month, aptly titled ‘Adapting to the Future World of Work’.

If you want to learn more about our programmes and discover how to become a Business Partner see our Join us page.