Practical Leadership Actions #3: How do I support learning and growth?

We have recently developed a series of practical leadership actions responsive to major themes that have emerged through our work with over 700 Discovery in Action® (Leading People) program participants.  We have observed six major themes that have consistently emerged as participants have grappled with the question: When do people perform at their best?  These themes are around people feeling supported, valued and safe; creating a ‘team environment’; supporting learning and growth; empowering staff and building autonomy; ensuring clarity of roles and expectations; and creating meaning and purpose.  Our participants have also articulated many practical leadership actions they take to address these issues.

Over 6 newsletters we are featuring a set of Practical Leadership Actions relating to each of these themes, generated through our exposure to on-the-ground leaders as well as various examples from blogs, articles and books.  These actions are not provided as definitive or comprehensive lists, but a working set of ideas that we are sharing broadly.  There is a minimum of at least 30 potential actions relating to each of these themes – so plenty of ideas that may spark your thinking and your day-to-day leadership practice!

So this month our featured practical actions are around…

How do I support learning and growth?

One of the most significant drivers of individual morale at work is the extent to which people feel that they are learning, growing and developing.  Conversely when people feel that they are stagnating – not being challenged, not improving their skills and knowledge, not growing their capabilities – there is a fair chance that their energy levels will drop.  So, a key task of leaders is to support learning and growth in their teams.  This is much more than just sending people to a few training courses during the year.  Drawing on the recent popularisation of the so-called 70/20/10 concept of development there are many strategies that can be employed to create opportunities for real and effective learning – through challenging work, effective feedback, peer learning opportunities, reflection, team problem solving and experimentation, and coaching and mentoring.  Ideally, a strategic and multi-dimensional approach is taken that truly creates a learning organisation.  We have created a simple one page sheet which contains 37 different ideas for action that leaders can take.  These actions are organised around the following 5 overarching strategies to create a dynamic and continuously learning working environment:

  1. Plan for and support development – taking a strategic and planned approach to development of capabilities, both at the team and individual level, ensures that priority is given to development activities and signals the value of investing in people.
  2. Provide new challenges and responsibilities – one of the most effective ways to fast track people’s development is to give people challenging work that stretches them (just) outside their comfort zone.  Such experiences can both engender a sense of growth and of feeling trusted which, in turn, drive higher levels of performance and commitment.
  3. Provide opportunities to learn from/teach others – social learning (learning with and through others) is one of the most powerful and inexpensive methods of development that not only builds individual capability and performance but also creates connectedness and stronger relationships between colleagues.
  4. Champion experimentation and improvement – encouraging innovation and exploring new ideas creates incredible opportunities for learning, both individually and collectively, as well as driving a strong sense of achievement and purpose.
  5. Provide coaching and developmental feedback – the intensity and degree to which people learn and grow through experience is significantly enhanced by effective and timely feedback and coaching.  You may find our posts on tips for providing feedback and finding the coachable moment of interest.

So while there is a list of possible actions for each of these 5 strategies contained in our one-page sheet, there may be many other actions, particularly relevant in your context, that you may also identify.  Of course, we’d be interested in other ideas for action that people have implemented!

This practical ideas list might be used in a variety of ways:

  • Reflect and review on your practice – do I have coverage across all these strategies?
  • Engage with your people – would they like to see more of some of these actions?
  • Select one or two actions from the list that you’d like to experiment more with over the next few months

Good luck and let us know of any other actions we can add to our list!