‘…. the experience of going beyond your competence is also a necessary part of leadership…’ from ‘Leadership on the Line’
I am taking an edx course on the topic of learning. In doing so, I come across a video describing a teaching practice in the US. I am surprised how facilitative it is. I wish my high school experience was like this. I certainly want this for my children (but also hope that the examination system will not discriminate such practice)
Just 10 mins. Watch it. If you are in a job of helping people learn (and especially if you have children), you will like it.
Basically, the teachers ask students to read original documents highlighting the history instead of telling dates, names and incidents. The students will then act like CSI detectives to construct what happened, formulate views, debate, etc. It is particularly interesting that the teachers start each session with a question. They then help out the students’ own discovery. They probe and challenge.
When I hear the following Chinese saying idiom from a radio broadcast, it rings the bell.
This one is extracted from a conversation between a Tang Emperor and his ‘Prime Minister’ over 1,300 years ago. The literal translation is:
You will be enlightened if you hear different opinion. You will be muddled if you just hear opinion from one side.
This piece of advice is rather straight-forward. We all know that we should hear different viewpoints. But it is easy said than done. We are so tempted to side toward opinion we would like to hear or those similar to ours. In a way, it is a common sense but not a common practice.
There is another layer of connection for myself especially in the frame of Adaptive Leadership – If the problem is a technical one, we do not need much of different opinions. We just need to identify who the expert is, and then follow the best practice. Not necessarily easy to implement but we can be rather efficient in knowing what to do. But if the situation is adaptive by nature, we need different interpretations on what is going on and ideas on how to approach the challenge. More importantly, we need to create space for the people involved to air and hear different opinions. This allows both emergent practice and people (and their thought to be exact) to change.
As an example, if the problem is about how to perform a successful heart surgery or produce the best credit analysis report, it is technical. It is not easy but we can go to the experts. But if the challenge is about how to make the patient live a healthier life or install sustainability as a company value, it is adaptive. There is no best practice but just emergent ones. The ‘leader’ (not necessarily the one in the authority position) need to listen to the people involved and mobilise as well as allow them to experiment.
I think in a way the challenges a Chinese emperor faced were largely adaptive by nature. As such, cultivating diverse opinions was generally the way to go.
Triggered by a discussion with a friend, I would like to write a few posts about Chinese ancient wisdom, and more importantly what it means in corporate learning nowadays. I believe it would be a good reflection for my own experience in the corporate learning world as well, both in China and outside.
The first one is the one that I have thought of the most (by 荀子 Xun Zi):
The literal translation is:
Not hearing is not as good as hearing.
Hearing is not as good as seeing.
Seeing is not as good as knowing (intellectually).
Knowing is not as good as doing.
True learning is complete only when we put it in action.
This quote illustrates a great deal on corporate learning:
- How the industry has changed – The quote highlights the evolution of corporate learning in the past decades. In the past, when we thought of corporate learning, we tended to have experts standing up and talking for the whole day i.e. teaching. As visual technology e.g. powerpoint became popular, the experts talk and show picture, video, graph and unfortunately mostly bullet points. This is from ‘hearing’ to ‘seeing’. Further, the focus changed from ‘what is sent’ to ‘what is received’. The learning professionals were transitioning from trainers who tell to facilitators who guide people to discover and make meaning themselves. This is from ‘seeing’ to ‘knowing’.
(Whilst this makes sense, I do not find facilitating people to learn common in the corporate learning field, especially in Mainland China. Here is an interesting phenomenon – when you are waiting for your flight in Mainland China, you often find shops selling video with an expert talking loudly and vividly about certain topic.)
- Action – The last part of the quote i.e. from ‘knowing’ to ‘doing’. In a way, experiential learning activities and business simulation are answers to it. For example, getting a group of people to compete in a treasure hunt activity and debriefing on what they learn about working in team. Depending on how the intervention is framed and run, this can be much more effective than traditional teaching in terms of learning transfer. However, I have experienced how learners just went through the motion in the intervention. They sort of decide to take it just as a ‘game’. In the debrief, when asked about say what they learn about team communication, they can produce a laundry list of ‘standard answer’. People cheer and clap their hands as people present back. But that’s it…..
To me, a more advanced version of the ‘knowing’ part is Action Learning. There are different practices in the market under the name of Action Learning. The one I prefer is called ‘Action Reflection Learning’ or ARL – where guided reflection plays a significant part to learning. See my previous post athttp://www.ask-nottell.com/?p=751 This practice tackles nicely the ‘realness’ problem mentioned above by always working on real work. (By real work, I mean the result of those will have real consequence to the learners.) I particularly like the philosophy of ‘Learning whilst you are Earning’. Using the ancient Chinese language, it would be something like 行学并行.
- Kirkpatrick 4-level of evaluation – The quote also illustrates the 4 levels. The ‘Knowing’ part is like Level 2. Learners can remember the learning and demonstrate say by passing the test at the end of a learning event. The ‘put in action’ part is like Level 3. Learners can put the learning into action in the workplace. The natural challenge of course to the quote is that it misses the Level 4 i.e. real learning is complete only when the learning intervention creates impact as mentioned by the pre-determined business measurement e.g. revenue, cost, attrition rate. Yet, this challenge is from the corporate perspective rather than the individual learners.
It is amazing how the ancient Chinese has figured out the above a few thousand years ago already. But even more interestingly, why such wisdom has not been commonly practised though it has been around for so long?
I recently have more time to catch up with practitioners in the learning market in China. They include facilitators, HR leaders, executive education leaders and those who run their own training / OD firms. One common theme coming up frequently in our conversations is around ‘How differently can or should we help people learn given the increasingly available content especially on internet like MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) or TED?’
There is also resource with specific frame. For example, I have an earlier post about a video-based Chinese-framed website called Prodygia. Here is another clip recently released on me – a little experiment I am having:
As always, welcome your thought / idea / comment!
I should have written this post earlier.
In the picture, it is the function room in HK where I conducted the last workshop on Adaptive Leadership for the employer I just left. Coincidently, it was the same room which I did the same workshop the first time 2 years ago. It began and now ends here. It is certainly a place to remember.
On reflection, I have learnt so much in leading this workshop. As mentioned earlier, I learnt the most from the co-facilitators. I changed from being sceptical towards Adaptive Leadership to loving it. I believe I have become more adaptive – to be specific in practicing Adaptive Leadership when running leadership workshop. (The adaptive practice may not apply to all learning intervention but definitely relevant in those about Adaptive Leadership) Yet, there is so much I need to and want to improve.
A friend of mine once attended a Leadership Development workshop all the way in the US. I supposed it was a huge investment by the company who hired an external facilitator and flew talents from all over the world. I was surprised when my friend showed me her course material. It was basically a presentation skills workshop. And they did do the typical presentation training drill e.g. stand up to present, video-taped, receive feedback, etc. I wonder how could a presentation skills workshop be considered as ‘Leadership Development’.
What is ‘Leadership Development’ after all?
In fact, if you ask 10 business executives what they will expect to happen in a ‘Leadership Development’ workshop, you probably have 10 different answers. Probably very different ones. It is like the term ‘Leadership’. See my earlier post on ‘Really.. what is Leadership?’ Further, in my experience, ‘Leadership Development’ does not always carry a good reputation. Some find it very vague and disregard it. Some will welcome it because of the wrong reason e.g. being invited to attend one means ‘I am in the club’.
On reflection, there is actually one (probably unconscious) definition on ‘Leadership Development’ that causes this problem. To many, ‘Leadership Development’ means any development intervention to people in the leadership position. By this definition, this really could mean anything, including presentation skills workshop.
Well, there is no right or wrong definition. I guess the question is whether it is useful. And if it is useful, it should base on a conscious definition on what ‘Leadership’ is.