Learning new skills as adults is difficult. As we age we become creatures of habit. Experience has taught us what we are good at and what we should avoid. Learning a new skill as an adult should in fact be easier than as a child because we do develop learning agility through our experiences. The biggest barrier to learning a new skill as an adult is the fear of failure. Adults don't commit themselves to learning new skills because they feel that if they have lived this long without the skill, why challenge themselves to learn it now?
I believe that we should all strive to learn new skills at each stage of our lives.
Personal enrichment is what makes life worth living.
This thirst for knowledge enhanced ability should drive each and every one of us to pursue new skills.
Leadership is a skill. While it was once considered more of an art, research has proven that leadership is very much a science. With undergraduate, masters and doctorate degrees offered in leadership, it is clear that leadership can be taught. Which means, leadership can be learned. Learning to lead is much like learning any other new skill. It takes time, commitment, practice and a willingness to fail.
Classroom based leadership development programs can teach the basics of becoming an effective leader, but they typically don't drive sustainable behavior change. The best leadership development programs are experiential in nature and involve action learning. Participants try out new behaviors in a safe environment, free from judgement. They study their own reactions to other peoples styles of leadership and develop greater self awareness.
Having developed and delivered hundreds of leadership development sessions throughout my career, I have learned that there is a better and more impactful way to drive sustainable behavior change. My recipe for teaching leadership.
- Take the learner to a foreign environment. Free them from the distractions of work and daily life. A place that feels new and requires getting used to begins to exercise the mental skills required to learn new skills.
- Create a safe zone for learning. Surround the learner with participants from diverse backgrounds, industries and functional areas. Creating a cohort of learners creates a safe zone where participants feel free from judgement and open to trying new behaviors. There is a paradox in the idea that people are more comfortable learning around strangers than with their colleagues. More here.
- Teach the group a new skill other than leadership. Learning a new tangible skill as part of the program serves as a great reflection point. Being able to dissect the challenges, the awkwardness and the thrill of success in developing a new skill makes the learner more self aware and can then be applied to their learning about being a better leader.
- Apply double loop learning. Chris Argyris who is an expert on how organizations and individuals learn coined the term "Double Loop Learning". Double-loop learning recognizes that the way a problem is defined and solved can be a source of the problem. Have participants do an activity and then reflect on the activity. It is important to break down, what worked well, what didn't and how the learner will alter their approach next time.
- Articulate the learnings. The program should include a community time each day for the learners to articulate what they have learned. This requires reflecting and diagnosing specific behaviors.
- Teach the gift of feedback. Encouraging participants to provide each other with real time feedback on their impact versus intent is a valuable skill for all leaders. Having the program participants coach and support each other on their learning journey is an important component of building new capabilities.
My organization LeaderSurf has combined learning to be a better leader with learning to surf. We offer week long Leadership Development programs to Playa Santana, Nicaragua for small cohorts of ten participants. The unique program brings together professionals for a week of self-improvement, executive coaching and life coaching. The structured program provides a unique learning opportunity with life skills that will translate into better career performance. As an added bonus the participants will either learn to surf or enhance their surfing skills on great waves. We call LeaderSurf, a leadership development program like no other, hosted in "the right climate for learning".
Think about the last time you learned a new skill? If you are ready to learn to surf and to be a better leader check out LeaderSurf.com