Being an executive or senior leader can be a tough, but exhilarating, gig – I’ve been there. Now as a Psychologist and Executive Coach, I am fortunate enough to be able to align my career experiences and expertise with my passion for transforming and empowering leaders.
Over the past 15 years, I have seen and experienced varying degrees of impact on leadership performance and perspective from training, facilitation and interventions that I and others have participated in or led. For me, however, one form of development stands head and shoulders above the rest: Action Learning.
Action learning is a familiar concept to some readers I expect: a group of people come together, supported by an expert facilitator, to solve complex, real-life leadership problems. In return, they walk away with actions, solutions and an increased sense of working wellness. Simple, hey? But what makes this thinking space so powerful in increasing the resilience, greatness and, ultimately, impact of leaders?
Leadership is an art – it takes practice
Trace the development of some of the greatest artists the world has ever produced – Rembrandt, Michelangelo, Van Gogh to name but a few. One commonality? They transformed themselves over time not measuring themselves by their one greatest public success but their inner desire to be the best forms of themselves. Action learning provides an opportunity to step outside of your problem and look at it with different eyes. Through the challenge offered by members and the use of leadership models offered by the facilitator, members learn life-long strategies for looking at leadership problems and turning them into solutions. This is a place to think rather than be told. Here is a place where you can refine and define the kind of leader you want to be.
How many times in your leadership life have you laid awake wondering what you were going to do about that problem that just won’t seem to resolve itself? As Freud put it, the nature of human beings is that, at some point, they’ll ask themselves whether the problem was their fault, whether they could have dealt with it better or, even worse, whether they have the capacity to fix it. Whether this sense of Imposter Syndrome lasts for a fleeting second or for, what feels like, a lifetime, it’s not you at your best. Action Learning uses principles of positive psychology (Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000) to enable group members to unlearn self-destructive behaviours and, instead, learn strategies for focusing on objective solutions. You’re safe – it’s never about you.
You can put your armour down
We live in a competitive world. It’s not good enough to be average; everyone is striving to be the best. That’s a tough gig for a leader and so where do you put down your armour, that steely exterior that prevents anyone else from knowing that, actually, there are things you’re grappling with? In an Action Learning set, members commit to one another in terms of giving objective solution-focused challenge and support. There’s no judgement, no competition and no winners. It’s a confidential and safe space, other than home, to be who you are.
Throughout my recent career I have been facilitating Action Learning groups to specifically help develop the leadership skills, behaviours and styles of cohorts of female senior and executive leaders. The opportunity to open-up and share experiences, often common experiences, whilst having a skilled facilitator help you gain objectivity and find solutions around what keeps you awake at night is powerful and transformational. What they say is simple: I can’t make you a great leader but I can increase your potential in becoming one.
Some call Action Learning a reflective space, some call it grounding and some call it the wake up call they need. Whatever it is to you, is there a better time to invest in becoming the best leadership form of yourself?
Confucius said, ‘…I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand…’. And that says it all really!
Seligman, M.E. and Csikszentmihalyi, M., 2000. Positive psychology: An introduction (Vol. 55, No. 1, p. 5). American Psychological Association.