When we use the word “learning”, we are talking about the taking in and making meaning of new information. By this definition, meetings, emails, product launches, conference calls, sales conversations and one-on-ones are all examples of learning. What can leaders do to improve learning?
Be aware of your own learning preferences. Your preferred way of taking in information and making meaning of new information is called your “learning style”. You likely emphasize the parts of the learning cycle you value the most. Overemphasizing one at the deficit of another can have serious side effects on communication, teaming and performance. The 4MAT Learning Type Measure® assessment tool is an easy-to-implement tool that identifies these preferences. Start a conversation in your organization about how these preferences impact performance.
Assess which parts of the cycle you are addressing and what is missing. By focusing on the four questions, you can dramatically improve learning impact in meetings, one-on-one communication and training. Lead through the four questions by asking: “Why is this important?”, “What is known?”, “How will this work?” and “If we are to be successful, what will we need to commit, to refine, to measure, to adapt?”
Focus on the learner. In our instructional certification and leadership development courses, we practice how to move through this four-part cycle in learning design, coaching, leading and managing. Consistently, one of the biggest insights gained by participants is that engagement is an internal process that begins and ends with the learner. Telling and showing aren’t enough. Learning begins with the asking and answering of a question. Questions such as “How do I solve…” or “What’s the best way to…” engage the learner in discovering the answer. Learning must be centered on the learner’s experiences and questions. Leaders and trainers must be highly skilled in eliciting these personal experiences and questions in order to engage commitment and deliver performance results.
As the former head of Shell Oil Company’s Corporate Strategy and organizational learning guru, Arie de Geus, shared, “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage”. Shifting the way learning happens in your culture may require a new set of leadership and training skills. Given the potential gain, engaging in leading the learning process should be a high priority on the agenda of every leader.
Jeanine O’Neill-Blackwell is the President/CEO of 4MAT 4Business®, a global learning and leadership development company. Her most recent book is Engage, The Trainer’s Guide to Learning Styles (Wiley, 2012). You can experience the 4MAT Advanced Instructional Design program on June 5-6 in Bucharest, Romania. Click here to learn more.