Here is an excerpt from an article written by Peter Heslin, Susan J. Ashford, and Lauren Keating for Harvard Business Review and the HBR Blog Network. To read the complete article, check out the wealth of free resources, obtain subscription information, and receive HBR email alerts, please click here.
Illustration: Dave Wheeler for HBR
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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.
Still, simply being an experienced leader doesn’t elevate a person’s skills. Like most of us, leaders often go through their experiences somewhat mindlessly, accomplishing tasks but learning little about themselves and their impact.
Our research on leadership development shows that leaders who are in learning mode develop stronger leadership skills than their peers.
Building on Susan Ashford and Scott DeRue’s mindful engagement experiential learning cycle, we found that leaders who exhibit a growth mindset diligently work through each of the following three phases of the experiential learning cycle.
First, leaders set challenging learning goals in the form of “I need to learn how to…” For some leaders, the goal might be to become more persuasive or to be more approachable. With a goal in mind, leaders can identify opportunities to make progress toward it. These could include a new project, an international assignment, a job rotation, or simply striving to approach routine encounters in a fundamentally different way.
Next, they find ways to deliberately experiment with alternative strategies. A leader interested in increasing their persuasiveness, for example, might experiment with sitting in a different place or speaking first or last in a critical meeting. Creating and capitalizing on learning opportunities can be bolstered by having a coach or peer provide feedback and act as a sounding board.
Finally, leaders who are in learning mode conduct fearless after-action reviews, determined to glean useful insights from the results of their experimentation. Candidly reflecting on what went well, what did not go so well, and what might work better in future are essential though often neglected initiatives for learning from experience and discerning what to focus on learning next. Understanding these principles is important for organizations not just because it means that leadership development doesn’t have to be expensive, but also because it means that leadership skills can be systematically learned and practiced.
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Here is a direct link to the complete article.