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With a growing appreciation for the ‘70’ part of the 70/20/10 model, many organizations are promoting experience-based activities for leadership development. As a result, leaders at all levels are benefitting from special projects, greater visibility and stretch assignments to support their growth. 

Yet many organizations are only now beginning to realize that on-the-job learning doesn’t have to consist solely of specially orchestrated undertakings. Real work – the mundane activities and responsibilities that leaders routinely take on – has the potential to deliver developmental results as well. 

Not just learning by doing

It’s not as easy as delegating an assignment and expecting that growth will follow. Effective talent development professionals understand that simply doing does not necessarily translate to learning. Mindless, rote, mechanical activity is just that: activity. It likely accomplishes something… just not learning. 

However, add attention to the mix, and suddenly that same activity can inspire powerful personal insights, a visceral appreciation of a best practice and significant behavior change. Better yet, the attention that can inspire this kind of learning comes in many forms.

Attention to intention

For everything you do, even routine tasks, ask yourself: what’s my goal? What’s the outcome I’m hoping for? What message am I sending with my actions? Is that the right one? When you pay close attention to your intentions, tasks become insightful and educational.

Here’s an example: Delia is a call center director who is struggling to help Arman, a supervisor who reports to her, develop better team building skills. She’s sent him to EQ (emotional intelligence) training and has asked him to read a few books; but his employees continue to report a punitive and fear-based culture within the group.

So, Delia took a different approach. She met with Arman and asked him to identify a few upcoming interactions he planned to have with his team. They discussed the importance of his responses. He determined the emotional or affective outcomes he wanted to achieve and set some intentions for his own behavior and actions that could contribute to those outcomes. 

With an action plan in place (and the right amount of motivation), he was able to approach his employees more purposefully and with greater intentionality… and learn in real-time from the different reactions and results he generated.

TIP: pay attention to your intentions; let routine tasks be your teacher. Don’t overlook the lessons to be learned behind your actions and the results they brought about.   

Attention to feedback

Actively seek out feedback and pay attention when you get it. Talk to your colleagues and ask them direct questions about your skills and knowledge. Let those around you offer comments or suggestions. After all, they’re the ones you work with day in and day out. 

Consider this: Tanya is a manager for a small healthcare organization. There’s little formal leadership development available to her; but she’s not going to let that get in the way of becoming a better manager.

So, she identified two specific opportunities for her professional improvement - communication and recognition of others - and actively sought out informal feedback during interactions with others.

After making an assignment or sharing an organizational change with employees, she’d ask: 

  • How clear is that?
  • What could I do to share information more effectively with you?

During one-on-one meetings with her staff, she would ask:

  • How appreciated do you feel for the contributions you make?
  • What are you proud of that I’ve not recognized?

With each response, she was able to adjust or enhance her approach and continuously improve her leadership capacity in real time.

TIP: Seek out feedback. Pay attention to what those around you tell you, think about what they said to build on your skills and learning.  

Attention to reflection

When you invest the time and effort to reflect on your day’s tasks, you’ll find there’s actually a lot to learn. With reflection, you might realize there’s a better way to manage your time, or speak with one of your reports or report on your numbers. 

Think about this example: Manny is a senior vice president in a financial services firm with many director-level direct reports. Given his large span of control, Manny has found that he can make the most of his limited time with others by instilling a reflection/learning discipline.

He asks the directors to spend a minimum of one hour each week extracting leadership lessons from their experiences. They can be significant or small; the key is to dedicate time thinking about it – because the lessons can’t sink in without the benefit of time and reflection.

Some of Manny’s direct reports engage in private journaling. Others have started blogs that they share within the organization. Others create short videos. This way, each person leverages their day-in and day-out experiences for real-time leadership learning.

TIP: Try journaling, blogging or setting aside time to reflect on your experiences. Talk it out to uncover lessons learned that improve you as a leader. 

In each example, the calculus of leadership development is Consistent Activity (daily actions and responsibilities that naturally play out in a leader’s life) + Attention (being aware of such things as intentions, feedback and reflection) = Real-Time Learning. 

So, no budget for leadership development? No sophisticated training programs? No time? No problem! Growth is available right within any leader’s job – if we give it a little attention. 

As corporate ladders fade into the past, career agility becomes the new secret to success! Use this quiz to determine your career agility quotient and get practical next steps for developing a growth mindset.

Julie Winkle Giulioni View all

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