25 years ago, leadership learning was so much simpler. We used to lock large cohorts of eager-to-learn participants into tiered lecture theatres, often in the basements of our business schools. The seats were a little too small and secured to the floor. There was little or no natural light and no possibility of interaction with anyone other than the clever professor at the front of the room. Every couple of hours, we would release them, fill them with coffee, walk them around outside for a few minutes and then lock them back into their seats. After three weeks, our participants would emerge, blinking into the sunshine, and we would send them back to their organisations, confident that some of the professorial brilliance would make its way into their leadership lives.
Of course, this was nonsense. This is not how human beings learn. Ask anyone about the most impactful learning experience of their lives – 90% of the time, it will be an emotional rather than an intellectual experience. It will be an experience that impacted the individual at a beliefs level – catalysing them to view the world through a slightly different lens. So in the last 20 years, we have worked hard to design leadership learning that delivers both intellectual and emotional impact. The innovation in experiential learning, coaching, immersion, action learning, virtual learning amongst all sorts of other creative methodologies has all led to a more sophisticated and human-centric approach. As a result, participants now leave their learning journeys prepared to experiment with new ways of thinking, leading and doing.
That’s all very well – but there were still rules. Always build a leadership cohort with similar levels of leadership experience. Make sure you design the entire learning architecture upfront, so there are no surprises. Design the learning outputs around some kind of leadership framework. And other such rules.
For a while, this has all worked very well. Then, two things happened. First, we started to become aware of the impact of the digital society on leadership populations around the world.
And then, the pandemic hit.
The impact of the digital society on leaders has been damaging. The tsunami of data – that has characterised the current industrial revolution – has led to a leadership population that is at best distracted and at worst stressed. As leaders, we haven’t developed the capabilities or mindsets to keep up with the machines nor cope with the daily onslaught of data.
This means we often struggle to differentiate between the critical stuff and all the noise. It has also led to us finding it difficult to disconnect from data. Indeed, there’s always WhatsApp, emails, text messages or Instagram that cry out for our attention.
As a result, we have got a leadership population that is more reactive than proactive, more present than future-focused and – most importantly – isn’t taking the time or space to think.
The pandemic has exacerbated all the challenges described above. But it has also given us the permission to challenge the sacred cows of learning, to experiment with new ways of doing things and to work out how we build communities of leaders when we can’t get them together in the physical learning environment. We have been forced to become much more creative, much braver and to make plenty of mistakes.
Join Jon Morton, Executive Fellow, and Claire Hewitt, Head of Learning Design, on 16 September at 16:00 EET for a 60-minute interactive conversation to look at how we can, have and will continue to innovate learning to address the leadership challenges catalysed by a digital society and the pandemic.
They’ll explore issues such as building diverse leadership communities – and what diversity really means. They’ll talk about the benefits of non-hierarchical leadership cohorts and the value they bring. And they’ll discuss how to build trust in the virtual learning environment and how to set up learning experiments. Jon and Claire will also share what we have learned, how we have experimented, what rules we have broken, what has gone well, and what was not so successful.
During this session, you’ll get an entirely new look at the future of learning – how to deliver the right intellectual, emotional and physical impact when providing leadership development for your organisation.