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Learning leadership – is that possible? Do we need it? Does it still fit in with the times? Does it make sense?

Let’s assume so, how could it look like then?

Surely the times of standardized management curricula lasting several weeks are over. Regardless of whether they are conducted in St. Gallen, at the Hernstein Institute or in in-house qualification programs. The requirements and expectations of customers have changed. Learning is different today and so is networking.

The fact that it works differently and is successful from the customer’s “executive” perspective is shown by the feedback of a pilot group of a customer’s holistically designed leadership and management development program. This group recently completed their two-year Learning Journey with a graduation. And what the participants reported in the retrospective suggests that they obviously did a lot right.

An impressive retrospective

The participants of the pilot group were simply fantastic in their ability to create a retrospective of their learning journey as individuals and as a group.

They expressed the digital competence they had developed in the meantime by making a film. Not only did the film highlight the various stages of the learner and Learning Journey, but the participants’ employees and superiors were also asked to show up in front of the camera to present their view of the impact of the qualification on the participants and their own organisation. By the way, no script had been written. Rather, this work was created in a creative collaboration in several iterations. An example of how the learning content on the topic of “new work” and “agile formats” came to life.

Afterwards, they arranged all participants in a “circle”, brought a (self-made) ball into play and let everyone have their say: The participants of the pilot group as well as the coaches and program managers and guests who had come to hear the learnings. Three questions provided the structure. The participants set the framework, initiated the process and then handed it over to self-organisation. This unit was prepared in peer groups and then collaboratively brought into the entire learning group without external facilitator. They already have the methodological and the social competence to turn those affected into participants.

Encouraging feedback

The feedback from the film and the following circle was inspiring and touching in many ways. In an unusual depth, people spoke openly about their own development. Many thanks were expressed for the many experiences and the lessons learned. There was talk of experienced and practiced appreciation. Acknowledgement of the progress made in building up competence in oneself and in others could be heard. The positive experience of cooperation and mutual support was especially emphasized. Examples of the sustainable effectiveness of qualification content in everyday life were mentioned. The weekly conference call set up in a peer group during the qualification trip was independently agreed upon as a regular call also beyond the qualification. This gave collegial consultation a space for sustainability. Learning in this new form received a certificate. This was combined with the request not to change anything, because learning makes sense and is effective in this way.

Learning leadership newly defined

How is this format designed to achieve such results and feedback from experienced managers?

On the one hand, it consistently follows the 70:20:10 approach, i.e. 70% of the qualification takes place at the workplace and by means of direct reference to the daily work routine. Here, virtual learning nuggets can also be consumed, which can be added to your own playlist according to individual needs. 20% of learning takes place in the community. Both in fixed peer groups and in the entire learning group. Routed via an exchange platform and supported by (video) calls. And 10% of the development takes place in face-to-face workshops. Particularly when the topics of person and behaviour are involved.

A transfer of the learning content into practice is consistently ensured with transfer tasks for the individual learner and in the virtual learner community. Often the learner’s work assignments also refer to their team or working environment. Here, primarily the long-term practical projects are to be seen. They demonstrate the business impact of the program and enable the development of competencies in (agile) project management.

Not to forget the highlight. Each participant is personally accompanied by a (virtual) coach. With this coach, individual concerns can be addressed. He/she also ensures that the participant always keeps the overview and direction in his/her largely self-organized learning journey.

Each participant has access to a comprehensive Wiki with in-depth content. Regular blogs help to ensure that the program always offers up-to-date content.

Learning leadership here means learning and iterating on the job. This starts with self-management, which is necessary for the program to come alive. After all, time for learning and development must be allowed by the participants themselves. This continues with the reflection on leadership in everyday work and the examination of the roles of “Manager & Leader” and their interaction. Leadership is also looked at from the future. This is where topics such as purpose, culture and new work come into play as well as new roles as change manager or enabler.

Then, there we are already talking about a Leader-Shift.

Redesigning leadership development.

That´s something we are good at.

“Uploading” enables shaping the future

The term “Uploading” originally comes from Otto Scharmer and his Theory U. “Uploading” describes the conducive attitude and suitable behaviour of each individual in order to shape their own circumstances and future. With an understanding of “Open Mind”, “Open Heart” and “Open Will”, people act consciously and autonomously. He sees himself as a proactive and constructive co-creator of a community. It makes a meaningful, value-creating and sustainable contribution to organizations and society. The meaning of “Uploading” can be understood as an individual creating his or her own substantial contribution and bringing it into the system. The individual thinks, feels and acts on its own and makes this output available to others. Based on its own free will and for the good of themselves and others. That is courageous. This is how the future is co-created.

“No, like this” and “Wow, so” seem en vogue today

Uploading” thus stands in contrast to “downloading”, which is also described by Otto Scharmer. It is about the ongoing reproduction of information already available. Regardless of whether this information is evaluated positively or critically. “No, like this” and “Wow, so” are two sides of the same coin. They express the individual’s actions, which are more owed to the swarm. One joins a trend or a group and follows this view. This has little to do with a reflected individual view and design. Rather, one remains true to oneself and one’s mindset, reinforcing it again and again.

As soon as an individual, a group or an organization shows its edge, i.e. its own point of view, the feedback is not long in coming. Towards the one extreme as well as the other. If the Positioning meets the zeitgeist, it can lead to countless likes and a quantum leap in followers in no time at all. Conversely, countless platforms invite you to give room to your own displeasure, which can quickly grow into shitstorms and hate triads. The more populist the tone, the better. Sometimes the content is no longer important. What this overshooting behaviour does to us as society is another completely different subject.

Co-creation begins by leading yourself

Admittedly, in our world today, every day a whole series of themes become visible that give cause to marvel or to shake one’s head. At the same time, one could be distracted or standardized every minute. Push notifications, Alexa, messenger services, social media and many more try their best to win over our attention. It is a huge challenge to resist.

The daily dynamics, the exponentially developing flood of information and the much-mentioned digital transformation challenge us beyond measure. It is becoming increasingly difficult to keep track of things or to form one’s own picture. We are increasingly reaching our limits. It seems tempting to join “like-minded people”, to have a pre-selection of information made, to follow the chosen swarm. And thus, to put one’s own thinking, feeling and acting back.

But how much of a human being does then remain? Is this still worthy of human beings? Or is it more like being a machine?

If we want to keep being human (s), it is advisable to become stronger and more conscious to become a co-creator again. And to shape our own future proactively. Use your own potential and create added value. To express oneself, in coordination with the expression of others.

Otto Scharmers supports “Uploading”.
With the aim of “Presencing”, i.e. to “be present” as a human being and to help co-creating.

First of all, this means to lead oneself.
To do so, the following first steps are recommended:

  • Check your own “downloading” status and make a conscious decision to change
  • Consciously “switch off” disturbances and create more time to be mindful with yourself
  • Consciously form one’s own opinion and use a variety of sources of information for this purpose
  • Give space to personal intuition and learn to listen to it

To do so, techniques for the development of mindfulness (such as mindfulness-based stress reduction) can be a great support.