On Leadership and Learning

A famous quote by John F. Kennedy goes “Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.” Even in this turbulent workplace where we’re expected to adapt to new situations without much time to acquire new knowledge, I couldn’t agree more with this quote. Simply being promoted or given a new title doesn’t turn us into leaders overnight. Rather, it is just the beginning of a long and crucial learning process.

A call for change

Leadership is one of HR’s greatest challenges, given the growing gap between what leaders want and what HR is able to offer with the resources at hand. Commonly known as an administrative function keeping track of time, compliance issues and risks, HR had little need to think about leadership strategies in the past. At the same time, many HR departments are yet to recover from the 2008/9 recession and have not received adequate investment compared to other functions.

So it’s time for leadership training to catch up with the pace of change happening in other parts of the business. Traditional leadership training tends to make leaders focus on themselves (introspection), rather than looking at their direct actions within a group and experimentation with new approaches and ideas. Research suggests that people learn most when put into cross-functional and international assignments or strategic tasks. It helps if they redefine their daily tasks and relationships first, before rethinking themselves in a classroom situation. Taking into account the 70:20:10 framework, we will realise that most learning does not in fact happen in the classroom, but out there in the ‘real’ world and in the job situations we face with our peers every day.

It’s all in the alignment

For a company to thrive, learning and development need be aligned with overall business goals – this goes for leadership development, too. The Towards Maturity 2014-15 Benchmark Study showed that the top quartile organisations are five times more likely to put what they learn into practice than those in the bottom quartile. These highly aligned organisations are also 13 times more likely to respond to increased revenue and 50% more likely to witness positive changes in their staff’s behaviour. Some very encouraging results! So how do we get there? To start off, HR needs to know exactly what is going on across the organisation as a whole (what’s the business model, the marketing strategy, the financial situation?) and what leaders need to learn in order to perform. Moreover, putting HR managers themselves into leading positions will deepen their familiarity with building leaders. A recent Deloitte report showed that a staggering 40% of HR leaders come from other areas of the business, not from HR backgrounds.  So there is still a lot of potential when it comes to bringing HR and leadership closer together.

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