Learning is More Than a Spectator Sport


Years of attending training programs where I sat in a chair and listened to PowerPoint presentations had made me weary of such events. After the training was finished, I’d head back to the office and the material I was given in the program would sit on my desk for a week or two as I got involved in the day to day craziness. I might tell the staff about what I’d learned but eventually, the books would go up on the shelf and gather dust.

I was a spectator. No matter how enthusiastically I participated in the training, once I walked out the door it became difficult to maintain the momentum of what I’d learned. The company I worked for wasted a lot of money on such things; I might as well have been watching TV. Sound familiar? Although I’ve been an outsider to the corporate world for a few years, I still see money thrown at traditional “training”.

At some point, I realized I was responsible for helping others learn and I was able to find my way in supporting them. The secret is they learn by engaging their head, heart, and body. In other words, learning doesn’t just happen in our brain. We need to have all of ourself involved in learning before it sinks in and becomes useful.

As a leader, it’s your responsibility to ensure that people learn. The most important learning doesn’t always require a trainer and a PowerPoint projector. It requires you to engage other’s head, heart, and bodies to help them learn in these ways:

Challenge them to try new things that will stretch them. Raise the bar, encourage them, and thank them for their efforts. Forgive them when they stumble. Have an “after action review” to allow them to debrief on what they learned and how they’ll use that learning in the future. Hold them accountable for their commitments.

Involve them in provocative dialog about important decisions that need to be made in your business. Listen intently and don’t judge their answers in order to make it safe for their ideas to come forward. Let them know how much you appreciate their input and stay open to using it when it makes sense.

Encourage them to reach out to their peers and dialog without you about the important issues you/they are dealing with. If there is some ongoing knowledge or skills the entire group needs to learn, encourage and support them in setting up ongoing peer groups that will help them to embody what they are learning.

Coach them regularly. They need you to hold them accountable, to cheer them on, and to be the voice of reason when things don’t go as expected. Set up meetings to coach them around their development, and provide them the feedback they crave.

Read here about how a smart leader helped his team learn.

How will you engage your staff’s heart, mind and body in learning? What’s your first step?


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Mary Jo Asmus is the founder and President of Aspire Collaborative Services LLC, an executive coach, writer, internationally recognized thought leader, and a consultant who partners with organizations of all kinds to develop and administer coaching programs. She has “walked in your shoes” as a former leader in a Fortune company.


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