A lot of the work I do at the moment seems to be within large corporate organisations and working, specifically, with people who are starting out on their leadership journey. Or perhaps it would be better to say, starting out on their formal leadership journey. When we explore their influences and formative stories it is often clear they’ve been a leader or, perhaps, been becoming a leader for a long time.
What is usually the case is that I find myself working with people who are moving into managerial positions, looking to push on to senior manager, and possibly partner. We come together to work in action learning sets as part of their development on that journey. And often the people I am working with are quite sceptical about the process at first…
“If I have a problem I think about all the possible solutions and then choose a way to fix it”
Is something I’ve heard more than once and reflects a sentiment that I have encountered often. The questions are often around the usefulness of slowing down and looking for perspective. The belief being that the solutions to problems can be figured out, and thought through, alone.
So what does action learning offer and does it work?
“That was so useful, I was really surprised”
“I never thought of approaching it that way”
“I really genuinely look forward to the action learning sessions, they’re so helpful”
are a few comments from many that identify the positive impact the action learning sets have for people developing as leaders.
So what makes action learning so valuable?
I believe it starts with creating and sharing, the time and space to approach problems or issues. Techniques for problem solving that are developed and always utilised under pressure, rarely allow for an extended look at the bigger picture. The pace and perspective offers great opportunity for creative insight and making a different sense of the issue or problem. It also allows for the exploration of the challenges and opportunities offered by the situation, beyond that of the immediate and seemingly pressing problem.
Furthermore the peer support and perspective, again helps shift and change the issue in ways that may not have otherwise occurred. The possibility for exploration at multiple levels, inclusive of thinking and emotion, is a great strength of the action learning approach and, for people moving into leadership roles, it also allows for the development of skills that are directly relevant in that role. Many participants identify the development of their management practice, toward a more coaching style, through the practice of action learning.
In brief the practice of action learning, I would say, moves new managers into greater areas of uncertainty, places where the “think of the solutions and choose” option is not the most useful approach, and equips them with a range of skills, relationships and practices to lead more comfortably and effectively in that space.