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Energize Learners: Open Doors, Break Through Walls, Let The Future In

The following help-wanted advertisement appeared in The Economist, March 15, 1997, one of the world's leading business magazines:

Learning Leadership
If you are keen to move into an environment where you can play a strategic international role, pushing out the boundaries of learning development, consider this . . . We provide leading edge solutions to many of the world's largest institutions . . . Our continued growth is based on an unmatched knowledge of customers' business needs - and the ability to create solutions to meet them. It's an environment that encourages the desire to grow knowledge and give of our best. And that's where you'll be chartered to realize that aim . . . You will help us maximize the business advantage we gain from the finest minds we employ.

Interested in working for an organization providing this kind of environment? Of course. Isn't everyone? Headhunters tell us that their most frequently requested (and most difficult to fill) recruiting assignments are for "Learning Leaders." Truth is, "learning leaders" are as scarce as capital letter leaders.

Be The Chief Learning Officer

It all begins with you. As the Phoenix leader you cast a long shadow. Be certain that you cast a long learning shadow! Set the gold standard that expects learning to be a major part of everyone's job by making it a major part of yours. Demonstrate your commitment to learning in every way possible.

There are No "Learning Organizations" Just "Learning Individuals." - We've all read lots about "learning organizations." In truth, there's no such entity as a "learning organization." Organizations don't learn. People learn. You can have a collection of learners in an organization, but you can't have a collection of organizations that learn. Since organizations don't learn, the question is, "How can you help people learn?"

Are You Serious About Getting Top Returns? Invest in Learning

As the Chief Learning Officer ask yourself, "Are we investing sufficiently in learning to generate the growth and return we need?" We know there's a correlation between investments in learning and shareholder returns. We discovered that investments in training and development were the single best predictor of shareholder return, three to five years down the road. Do you want to pick the future top performing stocks? Choose those that invest the most in training and development. Allan Greenspan, Chairman of the Federal Reserve, agrees, "Human skills are subject to obsolescence at a rate perhaps unprecedented in American history." Even more apropos were these words from the March 1996 editorial page of Money: "Investors should stop chasing after companies that are saving money by laying off workers and start switching to firms that spend money training their employees." Those organizations that invest in learning will be tomorrow's winners.

Learning is Much More Than Training - It's also Coaching

Learning is much, much more than training. Learning is not about sitting in a classroom and listening to a lecture (no matter how entertaining). The best learning occurs on the job between a coach/mentor, and a person with a burning desire to master a specific skill, behavior or thought process. So, the best learning takes place on sales calls, over coffee, in the hallway. Make learning part and parcel of every job assignment - every day.

Full Speed Ahead: Be the Coach/Vehicle for Other People's Learning

"Coach" is an old French word meaning "a vehicle to transport people from one place to another." In organizations, a coach helps a person move from one capability or emotional/psychological/ physical "place" to another - from one skill/performance level to another. Coaches perform a very valuable function: they help people grow. Whether it's in a family, a friendship, a neighborhood, a business or a church, great leaders are great coaches that help ordinary people do extraordinary things. Yesterday's leader asked how he or she could best exploit and mine the employee's abilities for the organization's gain. Today's coach asks, "How can I help this person learn to become more valuable to himself/herself -- as well as all of us?"

Encourage HighER Performance: Keep Raising the Bar

Imagine a first-time runner that shows up to run the mile in four minutes. Can anybody do that on the first try? Of course not. It takes lots of grueling practice, followed by more grueling practice, followed by even more grueling practice. The first time you run the mile you're lucky to do it in 24 minutes. A good coach doesn't beat the runner up for running the mile in 24 minutes. The good coach sets the initial bar at 20 minutes, then 15 minutes, then 10 minutes and so on: continually raising the bar in incremental steps until the runner reaches the world class standard of less than four minutes. Incremental steps are the only way to achieve world class standards. So the coach keeps raising the bar, keeps reinforcing current achievement and, as the chief learning officer, keeps creating situations where the individual can be challenged to learn and grow.


Make Learning a Part of Everything You Do

Build in learning as a part of every activity. Integrate work and learning. As Phoenix Leaders help everyone do it.

* Start every meeting by agreeing on the learning from that meeting.
* Take time at the end of every meeting to check whether everyone has accomplished their learning purposes.
* Ask the question in every conversation, "What did you learn from that activity and how are you going to apply it?"
* Keep the focus on learning. In doing so, you'll find you are also focusing on the real business value of every meeting and activity.

How do we do that?
* We take notes - in a notebook, a laptop or a spiral bound paper tablet.
* We keep a journal. We write down what we're learning.
* We're voracious "tearer-uppers"of newspapers, journals and magazines, clipping articles that pertain to our professional and personal lives. We share those clipped "gems" with others to stimulate their continuous learning.

Accentuate the learning dimension in every task, every meeting -- with every person you know.

Work and learning are simultaneous, continuous loop activities. The coach intervenes to make certain that the learning is capitalized on and applied on the job. In fact, successful Phoenix leaders create an environment where learning is expected as part of the job.

Learning begins with you. Start today by completing the following:

Phoenix Workshop

Use the following form to have Jim Belasco and Jerre Stead help you internalize these principles.

How can I demonstrate my personal commitment to my (and others') learning?

How can I improve my coaching skills?

How can I use job assignments to further learning?

How can I keep raising the bar to help people continue to learn?

Email Address:
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Copyright 2001-2009, Dr. James A. Belasco, Ph.D.

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