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8 elements that ground leadership learning and create more effective leaders

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August is always a busy time for leadership development.  While many people are away, some clients want to think through their ideas about how to create more effective leaders, and

  • Find new ways to influence the board
  • Have a bigger impact on the organisation’s leadership culture
  • Ultimately, have more effective leaders working successfully in the organisation

Because the phone isn’t ringing all day and people aren’t constantly being interrupted, there’s more thinking time.

Time for discussion and exploration.

We often get called in just to facilitate a discussion around leadership development. Supporting L&D Managers to reflect and refocus.

They want to reflect on the best way for leaders to learn, and it’s a privilege to work with these very talented people in this way.

One topic that’s come up several times this month has been the notion of ‘grounding’ leadership in people.

Supporting people to feel that they can put their learning into practice. Really embed it into everything they do. Truly transform the way they lead.

The debates have been around topics like: “What grounds leadership?”

  • Is it the learning and education?
  • Is it the skills, practice and application?
  • A combination of approaches?

The key challenge for some organisations is supporting people to go from the learning, or theory, into practice.

And of course, there’s no one answer that will work for all leaders. Because we’re individuals with personal preferences.

Yet we need to come together, and learn together, in order to work effectively together.

We can’t always learn at our preferred pace, or in our style, because the pressures around us demand something different.

Here at the Forton Group, we see leadership as a set of developable skills. So no, we’re not in the ‘born leaders’ camp. We believe leaders can be supported to be more effective.

And, as Plato said, “Excellence is not a gift; it’s a skill that takes practice”

This applies as much to leadership development as excellence in other fields of endeavour.

So here are eight things we know about leadership development.

  1. It helps to acknowledge and engage with participants’ prior knowledge, maturity and experience

When people think they have to ‘give up’ valuable skills or ways of doing things, they’re more likely to hang onto them. When they trust that those habits aren’t going to be snatched away, they can relax.

  1. The best learning environments support positive emotional responses

This is particularly vital when leaders have had negative learning experiences in the past. Whether at school, university or from a supervisor or line manager.

  1. We know that learning in itself is not enough

The full cycle of experiential learning needs to be employed.   Helping people to find their preferred route into learning. Whether through theory, abstract ideas, reflection, activities, or teach-backs.

  1. Peoples’ learning preferences need to be supported with other approaches

Leadership demands flexibility. It’s the people who don’t flex and explore other learning methods who have the most trouble developing their leadership strengths.

  1. Facilitative approaches to learning & development have really positive impacts on leadership development

Our tutors are all grounded in the coaching style of facilitation, so that the learning, knowledge and previous experience of participants is fully brought out.

  1. There really are no dumb questions

When people stop judging themselves and others, and focus their critical faculties on situations, it’s a richer experience for everyone

  1. Structured learning has its place

Structured to engage peoples’ senses fully. Challenging them to think in new ways. Getting them into action. Enabling people to reflect and draw learning from what happens – or doesn’t happen.

  1. Empty spaces are vital for learning

Space create moments of insight. Lightbulb moments. That’s why physical learning environments that include gardens, paths and the natural environment – and the time to make use of them – are great for learning.

The good news is that today’s learning environment needn’t break the bank. When we combine different methods we can save time and money. And speed up the learning into application step, at the same time.  This means making the best use of in-person learning time. Combining it with self-paced, online learning covering theory and models. Or using telephone conferencing for Action Learning instead of investing time, money and resources getting everyone into one place.

The thing I love best about today’s world of learning and development is that, when leaders take responsibility for their own learning and development, and thrive in that environment, they’re more likely to support and encourage these approaches in their team. Grounding the learning for today’s leaders builds the organisation’s leadership culture and contributes towards building the next generation of leaders at the same time.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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