This last weekend I started yet another formal qualification, it’s a subject that I love and I know it will add value to my clients, and even though the timing wasn’t quite right, six months too early really, I’ve jumped in with both feet, shuffled my diary and my life around a bit and I’m making it happen.
My Dad, now 75, is a lifelong learner and I’ve definitely got the bug from him. When I’m not involved in formal training, and that’s actually quite rare, especially over the last five years, because, well PhD, I’ve got my head in a book, I’m watching videos and listening to podcasts, I’m learning about other people, I’m attending workshops or I’m doing something as simple, or so it sounds, as learning a new recipe. Although we’ve learnt that when disaster bakes or meals occur in the kitchen that we just call them an experiment and move on.
Whilst enjoying some downtime over the weekend, yes I squeeze that in too, I started to think about the value of learning. Why do some of us embrace it and others don’t? Why are so many millions of pounds spent each year on leadership development, and we’re still not really seeing the traction we need in terms of all leaders actually developing? And during this downtime, two particular events sprung to mind.
One was quite a few years ago. I’d been asked to submit a proposal for a company to deliver its leadership development. Proposal submitted I was invited to meet with the HRD and CEO to discuss my proposal. After quite a lengthy wait in reception, I was invited through to the Boardroom when the CEO didn’t look up, didn’t welcome me, just said her name and asked me to take a seat – I could tell this would be an amazing meeting. The HRD ran through the ‘agenda’ for the meeting and asked me to present my ideas. I’d only said about five words and the CEO’s head shot up and she started to speak.
She wanted to know why, given that all of her leaders had been trained and developed at Ashridge, Roffey Park and many other leading institutes, that I felt I was qualified and experienced to work with her and her team. And, what I would deliver that would mean for the very first time in history her FD would put his phone down and actually engage in a programme instead of being in the room but not actually present.
We had quite an interesting debate about why I was thereafter submitting my proposal, what I felt I could do differently, what was missing from the prestigious programmes already delivered, and, why a leadership culture would allow anyone to dismiss development by being in a room but not actually present and where else this was showing up in the business, and, why a leader would be so dismissive of a development opportunity.
Needless to say, I wasn’t a fit for them and they weren’t a fit for me.
The second memory was a trip to Uganda with Hope for Justice and delivering workshops with two people are now two of my favourite humans, Ian Pettigrew and David Faulkner. This was a volunteering trip and we were giving our time and experience to deliver workshops to managers and staff to help them to better lead their teams which would then allow the centres to be run more effectively. I’ll add at this point that all staff and all centres already do incredible work. I actually think we learnt more from them than they did from us, they disagree.
Some of the workshops we ran, were on what many of us may assume to be ‘basic’ skills; coaching skills, goal setting and others, and yet the way the sessions were embraced was like nothing I had seen or experienced before. Everyone in the room was engaged. When it came to practising coaching skills, they wanted to do more. At one point we thought the one guy at the front who was typing away on his laptop was actually just catching up on emails until we discovered he was noting down everything we were saying on to a PowerPoint to share with his team when he got back to this base.
On the second day of workshops, we were met with progress reports of what they had already implemented or changed from day one and how it would help them. Something I didn’t even realise I had said, had, after two days changed the way one of the guys was communicating by his week, by the Friday he said it had already transformed the relationship with his wife and daughter. The goals they were setting they were getting excited about, telling us with great pleasure how many more vulnerable children they could support if they met these goals, and some of their targets were enormous, but they keep on smashing them, and they keep on saving lives and reuniting families.
And so my reflection continued.
When education is seen as a privilege, something that you have to pay for and that your families have to work hard for, does that put a different value on education than when it’s free?
When education and training is so readily available and something we can access at the click of a button, does that mean we devalue that which we have to pay for?
If we dismiss training and learning as a task we have to do that is stopping us from doing our day job, are we missing opportunities for growth?
If ego gets in the way and we think we know it all, how does this show up in our leadership and across our companies?
Do we focus enough on the outcomes of learning when we start designing and delivering training? Could we place more emphasis on this to engage our audience sooner? It may not all be life-changing but if there is a purpose to our work then surely there must be a purpose in our learning?
Is learning always the last thing we prioritise when potentially it should be one of the first?
What value do you place on learning and how does learning add more value to you?
Kelly is an Executive Coach for HR and People Leaders at kellyswingler.com and Founder of The Chrysalis Crew.
She leads and coaches with an open heart, an open mind and has the courage to challenge the status quo and do things differently so that we can all love our roles, find balance in our lives and so that we can all change the world of work for the better.