Tag Archives: Pedagogy

Our leadership development philosophy

Over the past year I’m consistently asked to answer the question, “what is your overall leadership development philosophy?” I thought it would be helpful to put pen to paper and blog my answer. Our experience over the past 10 years working with thousands of senior leaders in medium to large organizations has led to some core tenets that consistently hold true. Over the past year I’ve written several posts that together sum up our leadership development philosophy. I’ve consolidated those here and added a few thoughts to round things off:

  1. Why most Leadership Development initiatives fail
  2. Interactive Business Learning Experiences™:
  3. Theory versus reality: many “leadership development consultants” have academic backgrounds but little to no practical experience in the trenches working at an executive level. Their approach is based on case studies and teaching theories. The challenge with this is the Grand Canyon sized gap that exists between theory and application. Having leaders who can “talk” about leadership but cannot clearly demonstrate in a tangible way (and by tangible I mean a way in which others can easily understand what they are doing and learn for the approach), leads to great theorists who talk the talk but can’t walk the walk.
  4. Three Core Areas of Leadership: The are actually three core areas of leadership that leaders need to become students of: leading self, leading other, leading organization. Most people only consider the second one, leading other, when considering how they can develop their core leadership skills.
  5. Authentic Leadership: Bill George in his talk at Google describes Authentic Leadership in a way that resonates with what our experience at ViRTUS.  Here are the five learnings from his hour long talk: leadership is about internal development and introspection (self-awareness) not how you create a perception for the public, know your values and what’s really important to you, it’s the sweet spot at the intersection of your greatest strengths and your greatest motivation, find a support team and mentors who you can be totally honest with and who can be totally honest with you, lead an integrated life by being the same person in all areas of my life (authenticity).
  6. Emotional Intelligence: The founding father of Emotional Intelligence (EI or EQ) in the workplace is Daniel Goleman. He developed the four main EI constructs as: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness (sometimes referred to as awareness of others), and relationship management. Our experience has shown us that by weaving these tenets into the background of the competencies we help leaders develop by showing them practical tools and techniques using everyday language, leaders can be coached much more rapidly into demonstrating changes in behaviour.
  7. Andragogy vs Pedagogy – the old school style of having a teacher stand at the front of the room and lecture to the students about a theory has been proven not only to be inefficient in helping adults learn, it’s also incredibly boring for the learner. The new style is collaborative, engaging, interactive, focused on opportunities and challenges they’re actually facing, accountability based (instead of memorizing), and open to failing as a key part of the learning process.
  8. Adult Experiential Learning Cycle
  9. Entrenching Learning
  10. Five Stages of Learning: There are five stages of learning that we grow through when absorbing a new concept literally from apathy to “this is just the way I do it”:  Unconscious incompetence – I don’t know what I don’t know, Conscious Incompetence – I know what I don’t know, Conscious Competence – I know what I know, Unconscious Competence – I don’t know what I know, Reflective or Enlightened Competence – I am aware that I don’t know what I know but I can shift back into conscious competence to teach someone else.
  11. How do you know it’s working?: The reality of transforming a business is fairly straightforward: if you can’t change a behaviour or a system within the business then everything stays the same. The easiest way to measure changes in behaviour is to witness them using the ViRTUS Video Test.

As always I welcome your comments, the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’m interested to hear what your personal experience has been in helping develop leaders within your organization.

PS Why post this on my blog where my competitors can see it? It was an easy decision. Even though people can cut and paste the words, they can’t match the results we provide and at the end of the day, that’s what matters.

Why most leadership development initiatives fail.

Over the past ten years we’ve had the opportunity to work with well 1,000+ executives and CEOs, focused on helping them becoming better leaders, strategists, and visionaries. In that time I’ve seen the aftermath of many failed leadership development initiatives, that we’ve been called in to fix or replace, and they seem to carry a number of similarities. If you’re a CEO, VP HR, or Director of Leadership Development, I think you’ll find this helpful.  Here is a list of the reasons that most leadership development (LD) initiatives fail:

  1. They ignore reality. Good, bad, or ugly, there is a style of leadership that is accepted in your company right now. It’s been woven in to the fabric of the organization until it became the unwritten rule of “how you lead here.” Ignoring the fact that most people don’t look down the organization for tips on leadership they look up, and hoping that by training the “up and comers” below the exec team to behave differently than the exec team does simply doesn’t work. People turn off the volume and watch the video: how are leaders acting in this company so I know how to act like them so one day I can become an exec too. We call it the Video Test. If the senior team doesn’t understand, promote, and clearly demonstrate the behaviours that you are hoping to teach your up and coming high potentials (hi-po’s) then it’s really just paying lip service to leadership.
  2. There’s no connection to the business. Teaching leaders how to lead without showing them the direct connection to the actual situations and circumstances that they are going to run into in your business is leaving out a very crucial step. Making the connection from behaviour to situation to outcome to success based on actual circumstances that occur today in the business or occur frequently in their day-to-day roles is one of the most effective ways to ingrain an approach.
  3. We’ll do it in-house “through HR.” Most HR departments are not equipped to handle facilitation of leadership development programs in-house. It’s not their expertise, they are usually understaffed, and this is the core capability of the company. The most effective way (yes, I know, I’m biased, tough – it’s true), to implement a proper program is to work with an external leadership development partner who is willing to take the time and energy to understand what success looks like for you and the business, and design something that fits your situation (run away fast if they have the solution already built – your business is unique, you deserve a unique solution).
  4. It’s event driven. Holding an annual leadership retreat or semi-annual “learning event” means that for about one month after the event you’ll see some faint signs (usually in the form of terminology from the event) leaking out. After that it’s back to business as usual. The only way adults can actually their behaviour is to: see a model of what world-class behaviour in this area looks like, immerse themselves in learning in a practical way how to change their behaviour, and have the opportunity to revisit the learning on a frequent basis.
  5. Stick it in the LMS (Learning Management System). Right and magically everyone will find it since they spent the majority of their day surfing your corporate intranet looking for learning opportunities (is the sarcasm too light?). Leadership development is something that people need to be invited to participate in in a tangile way. Whether it’s live, on a webinar, a coaching call, whatever, the point is you engage them, not the other way around.
  6. They used an elementary school approach. Remember when you were in elementary school and your teacher was the expert and she told you how to do stuff that you weren’t sure you’d ever use again and that’s how you learned.  Well that’s called pedagogy. There are some things missing from that experience for adults: no control over the learning, no feedback to the person helping me learn, no connection to my reality, and no practical application right now. Adults require interactive, experiential learning where the “teacher” is really facilitating the learning process by bringing forward new concepts in a way that allows the learners to try them out.

If you’re not sure where to get started but you know you need to do something about developing stronger culture of leadership in your business here’s the best ways to begin:

  1. Write a list of all of the leadership behaviours that you don’t like that are going on in your company today.
  2. Take that list and write what the opposite, positive behaviour would look like.
  3. Think one year down the road and ask yourself this question, “what would substantial progress look like for us?”
  4. Interview your executive team and ask them one question, “what are the core leadership abilities that we need to foster in this organization to help us compete in the business over the next 1-5 years?”

Andragogy versus Pedagogy.





The distinction between the old style of university lecture learning (pedagogy – child learning) where the professor has the answer or it’s in a book, and our job is to write down as fast as possible the “nuggets” of information for the purpose of memorizing it for a test of recollection versus application filtered it’s way into business and leadership training within organizations a long time ago and even though it’s time has passed (while actually, it never really work all that well), there are still many organizations who are using an academic approach to attempting to develop leaders within their organization.  It’s usually referred to as “training” and it’s the mind-numbingly boring “fill my glass” approach to learning that causes most adults to slip into a waking coma for extended periods of time.

A few years ago (1833) a psychologist named Alexander Kapp developed a much better approach: Andragogy (adult learning).  This model supposes that the learner is involved in the design and evaluation of their learning, that mistakes are part of the process of refinement, that the subject being learned has relevance to their current situation, and that the learning is focused on problem solving versus memorizing content.

In my experience the andragogy approach leads to the key thing that’s required in leadership development: actual changes in behaviour over the long term.  Without an actual change in behaviour the result is “academics” who can preach about leadership but who demonstrate a complete lack of application.  We have a model that we use at ViRTUS called the Video Test: turn off the volume and watch what people do.  It’s a much better determinant of a person’s abilities.

When adragogy is blended with immersion and spaced repetition it’s amazing the difference in the ability of adults to take concepts and turn them into behaviours and habits.