Experiential Leadership Development

images-6I am currently spending a couple of days listening to a series of presentations by four Action Learning Teams.  Each team has been commissioned for one year to drive needed change in some important aspect of our organization.  The ALT is a part of an overall two year leadership development initiative.  Each participant receives stellar input, ongoing coaching from a seasoned executive, and the experience of solving a critical problem as a part of the ALT.  This is our 4th iteration of this development venue and the experiential learning has proven to be a highly significant piece of a participant’s growth.  As I listened to the presentations, I picked up four aspects of this process that formed the foundation for experiential learning.

1. A problem statement or question that required leadership imagination. Each team was presented with a real life problem statement or question that needed to be solved or answered.  These were real problems in real time that had high leverage implications.  In some cases it was a new strategic initiative launch.  In one case it was an existing system that needed true renovation.  In every situation it was a problem that inspired the team to rally together towards a common solution.  This provided the foundation for collaboration, team building, shared leadership, strategic thinking, and problem solving.  It became the unifying cause for fertile development.

2. Solid research that stretched leadership intuition.  The vital next step for each team was to do thorough research towards the setting of their defined problem.  In most cases this required live interviews, mass surveys, on site observations, and expert advice.  These teams had to learn to trust one another to do solid work to insure that the research was robust enough to lead to sure conclusions.  The research pushed the boundaries of their thinking.  It forced them to consider new paradigms.  They had to go beyond conventional belief and their normal experience.

3. The testing of assumptions that drove leadership honesty.  This is where teamwork was put to the test.  Politeness had to be set aside and honest give and take had to rule the day to get past pet ideas.  This usually meant some long hours around a large table studying, arguing, and refining their proposed solutions.  This caused team mates to recognize the diversity and make up of others.  They began to see that they actually needed each other to get to the best solutions.  Some had to learn to assert themselves.  Others had to learn to give space to those who were more introverted.  All learned about their own limitations and the need for others.

4. A clear proposal presented and defended that tested leadership integrity.  Finally, each team had to publish and present their proposal in a succint and clear manner for a full room to digest.  Then they had to defend their conclusions by way of cross examination from the audience.  Why did they choose this idea?  What did they not consider?  How will they measure true success?  Team mates defended one another.  Shared leadership showed up.  Teams became more galvanized around their ideas.

All of this took place over 6 months and had to be completed on time.  The next phase is implementation.  All of the proposals in the world don’t matter if they are never executed.  The next six months are reserved for this critical step.  Experiential leadership development will continue and leaders will grow.

How have you seen experiential leadership development expressed?

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