Leadership development and a learning mindset

August 22, 2017 by Wally Bock

The title of an HBR article by Lauren A. Keating, Peter A. Heslin and Susan J. Ashford seems to be stating the obvious: “Good Leaders Are Good Learners.” Everybody knows that, right? The opening paragraph doesn’t do anything to contradict that impression.

“Although organizations spend more than $24 billion annually on leadership development, many leaders who have attended leadership programs struggle to implement what they’ve learned. It’s not because the programs are bad but because leadership is best learned from experience.”

Ok, we already know that, right?

Leadership development and learning on the job

There may be some quibbles over the details, but most of us appear to buy the idea that aspiring leaders learn most of their important lessons on the job. The big question for us is: “How can we make that learning better?” The authors suggest that one way to do this is to help developing leaders slip into what they call “learning mode.”

Now, you might reasonably be wondering, “What the heck is ‘learning mode?’” Fortunately, Peter Heslin and Lauren Keating describe what they mean in a June 2017 article in the Leadership Quarterly. There, they say that when a person is in learning mode, he or she is “intentionally framing and pursuing each element of the experiential learning process with more of a growth than a fixed mindset.”

That sounds quite wonderful, but I’m not sure it’s going to be easy in the midst of the pressures and surprises of everyday work. So how can we help leaders develop a growth mindset?

Leadership development and a growth mindset

Some aspiring leaders will show up with a growth mindset. We can help them develop habits of journaling and reflection to get the most from their experience.

Other aspiring leaders will show up with a firmly entrenched fixed mindset. Then the challenge for leadership development professionals is to help them develop a growth mindset and habits that will support it.

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

Posted in Leadership Development

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