“Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it.”
Did you ever wonder how people learn to be managers? What is the process through which they improve as managers and leaders in our organizations?
Recently, I came across two broad forms of learning; Cartesian Learning and Social Learning. A Cartesian view assumes that “knowledge is a kind of substance and that pedagogy concerns the best way to transfer this substance from teachers to students.” Many classroom & e-learning programs are based on a Cartesian view of learning; nuggets of information, sometimes called learning objects, are transferred to learners who then become better at doing whatever it is they need to do.
Social Learning, on the other hand, is “based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions.” We believe the majority of a leader’s actual learning and development occurs through this type process.
For example, just reading this article is cartesian learning. The impact is relatively small. However if you have a conversation with colleagues to make sense of the concepts and think through how they might be applied, particularly around a current challenge, this becomes social learning. The process will have a significant impact for you, your team and your organization.
Several years ago, in his book Managers Not MBAs, Henry Mintzberg, a well known management thinker, wrote that “Thoughtful reflection on natural experience in the light of conceptual ideas, is the most powerful tool we have for management learning“. CoachingOurselves is an approach to management and leadership development created by Professor Mintzberg and I based on this concept. Bring small groups of leaders together to reflect and discuss on recent managerial experiences in light of conceptual content. This is a simple yet highly effective approach to leadership development.
Each CoachingOurselves session focuses on a topic, prepared by a management or leadership thinker, introducing a concept and guiding the group discussion. These discussion guides have the content and questions to drive 90 minutes of peer learning for groups of 4 to 6 participants.
There are topics such as “The Play of Analysis“, and “Ordinary People, Extraordinary Leadership“, written by management & leadership authorities such as David Ulrich, Philip Kotler, Marshall Goldsmith, Michael Beer and Henry Mintzberg. Unlike action learning or communities or practice, CoachingOurselves begins with reflection through the lens of conceptual material which results new perspectives and learnings.
The impact of these peer groups getting together once a month is surprising. Individuals develop practical actions and make incremental changes after each session rapidly adding up to improvements for themselves, their team and the organization. Managers and leaders are given the responsibility for their own development and results.
All this makes CoachingOurselves a scalable, cost effective development program with high impact and low overhead for the leadership and learning professionals supporting the process.