Recently, DeakinPrime hosted a boardroom session with world-renowned leadership and learning technology expert Nigel Paine. This provided an opportunity to have an in-depth discussion about the emerging trends in leadership learning with one of the foremost thinkers in this field.
‘The vast majority of leadership programs fail,’ was the starting point for our discussions. They don’t bring about lasting change and they don’t result in behavioural change. One of the key goals of a leadership program should be helping people to change, but not just at the surface level. The change required is changing people’s habits. The learning should provide an understanding of what things need to change, the opportunity to practise these changes in a ‘safe’ environment, and continual reinforcement until the new behaviour becomes the new ‘habit’. A successful outcome is when change can be observed by others.
What is a good leadership program?
A good leadership program should:
- create an environment where innovation is encouraged
- enhance decision-making
- promote letting go of control (moving away from command and control)
- overcome hubris.
This is vital in the VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous) environment in which we now operate. It made me reflect on the adage that: ‘The only constant is change’. In a world where the goalposts are constantly moving, rather than teaching people to control and tame we need to focus on adaptivity and, in particular, adaptive leadership.
Going back to the beginning, what happens in the preparation stages of a leadership program is vital for supporting this change. As part of the preparation there should be planning for what an individual wants to get out of a leadership program and this should be agreed with and supported by their manager.
For continual re-enforcement, coaching is one of the key tools. Nigel made the point that study after study confirms that coaching and mentoring are successful at embedding change, so wondered why they are still often seen as an add-ons or ‘nice to haves’. Coaching and mentoring also play into some of the key learning trends which are seeing the focus moving away from ‘one size fits all’ toward tailored, personalised learning approaches.
We also talked about unleashing personal learning. Everywhere there is evidence that people are increasing their participation in learning—for example, 1.5 million YouTube channels, MOOCs, open learning. Most people want to learn and develop. How do we harness that? One way is through BYOD (Bring Your Own Device). Allowing people to learn using the tools and platforms that they are comfortable with is taking the learning to people, rather than expecting people to come to the learning. Learning that can be accessed in different modes on different devices is what they are already doing in their personal lives. The more we can mirror that in our corporate systems the more engaged learners are likely to be.
The two game changers
We rounded out our discussion with a review of what Nigel saw as the up-and-coming game changers.
The first one is neuroscience. One of the biggest recent discoveries is the plasticity of the brain—its ability to change. So, rather than as adults being ‘set in their ways’, there is scientific proof and growing understanding of how we can change our brains and design learning that affects that change.
The second game changer is ‘big data’. Other industries are already mining data to personalise our online browsing, shopping and interactions on the web. As more and more learning moves online we have the same opportunities to start to understand and use this data to provide relevant personalised learning.
Hand in hand with big data is the third game changer—technology. Technology has been a disruptive innovator in nearly every facet of our lives, and learning is no exception. People no longer want to sit in classrooms or workshops with a lecturer who is transmitting information; they want to be involved in how and when it suits them. They want bite-size pieces of learning; they want to determine what they learn. Technology has taken the control of learning from the professionals and placed it firmly in the hands of the learners.