Ready for anything: The future currency of learning

What makes leaders ready for anything? Emotional intelligence and flexibility, says Ben Houghton. 

As organisations face an uncertain outlook and attempt to do more with less; learning and development strategies need to adapt. Confronted with the challenge of attracting and retaining the best millennials, who define themselves more by their freedom to move between organisations rather than their commitment to any one employer in particular, learning in the future has a pivotal role.

Responding to the needs of both the market and the people within it will need a certain formula to get this right. This formula has three specific ingredients.

Make learning personalised and tailored to the individual

Learning is a broad topic and what I’ll focus on here is learning in the context of people in leadership roles.

A recent article stated that most leadership programmes take place away from the workplace and are delivered in a conference room. Usually they are rational, intellectual interventions facilitated by an expert where delegates work on case studies, receive feedback and take away some insights that help them think about their role.

My take on this approach is that it is one dimensional. Also the power and responsibility sits very much with the provider of the training rather than the leaders who receive it. This is something that needs to change.

Tailoring learning to each individual requires a sophisticated diagnostic, one which can make a tangible link between how a leader currently behaves across a range of work contexts to how they behave in those contexts afterwards.

In the future, people development consultants will place emphasis on transferring ownership to the group rather than retaining it themselves. There will be a shift towards offering leaders the tools to succeed as unique and complex individuals in a variety of contexts. This is in contrast to training up generic leaders who have a library of theories in their head but no ‘in the moment’ reflexivity. 

Tailoring learning to each individual requires a sophisticated diagnostic, one which can make a tangible link between how a leader currently behaves across a range of work contexts to how they behave in those contexts afterwards. 

A diagnostic of this kind can act as a catalyst in shifting ownership and when any learning intervention becomes ‘about-them’ and ‘for-them’ growth is forged. 

Create visceral experiences

Rather than throwing information at bright people, the success of any leadership intervention will lie more with appealing to a leader’s intelligence rather than setting out to build on it.

This difference is a subtle one. 

It focuses on giving a leader the opportunity to make an informed choice in their approach ‘in the moment’ by providing a compelling insight into human behaviour. This insight then creates an imperative to learn and experiment with new skills. This is about creating the ‘why’ and showing them the ‘how’ as opposed to just telling them the ‘what’.

In the field of neuroscience, it is widely agreed that to learn something new, to retain that learning and then change our behaviour, the emotional circuits in our brain have to be activated. Our head, heart and hands need to be connected, which means that any learning intervention has to come to life inside our bodies.

Learning in the future has to be a visceral experience and an embodied sense of something, not just an intellectual exercise. 

Develop situational emotional competence 

In changeable markets and fast moving business environments leaders need to create stronger more emotionally connected relationships with their teams, senior colleagues and stakeholders. This means developing communication skills that can capture hearts as well as minds in consequential situations.

Improving this interpersonal ability requires a fundamental shift in emotional competence, which is a point that builds on the fact that feelings underlie all decision making, and harnessing this is critical for leaders.

Leaders who are ‘ready for anything’

In an unpredictable world where we can no longer anticipate all that will happen we need leaders who can be agile, and who can be emotionally aware in all consequential situations. 

This is what it means to be ‘ready for anything’ rather than ‘prepared for everything’ – the future currency of leaders and their learning.


About the author

Ben Houghton is CEO of Noggin


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