Roddy Millar is the Founder and CEO and editorial director at IEDP Ideas for Leaders, and has worked with the foremost leadership researchers and developers for the last 20 years – making their work more accessible and valued. He is driven to make organisations more human. His blog discusses the importance of embracing human learning alongside institutional education.
The natural way humans learn is through observation and imitation. It is how babies pick up their language skills, it is how we learn to behave in social situations, and it is, to a large degree, how we develop our skills at work. It is also, of course, how we acquire bad habits and practices too, by learning the wrong ways to do things from people who have often not learnt best practices themselves.
In today’s world, however, we tend to think of learning as something much more structured and formalised. Often to the point where if it is not presented in a module, program or class then we don’t give the content much consideration or value from an educational point of view. This is an outcome of centuries of educational evolution. From the scholastic training of monks and scribes in the Medieval period, through the appearance of schools and colleges for children of the privileged classes, to the universities and higher education that we have in abundance today. Structured, formal learning is, to a large degree, what we think of as ‘how we learn’.
But scratch the surface and we know that it is not the case. Schools, colleges and universities are increasingly weaving experiential training into their programs. Businesses embrace the 70:20:10 model (where 70% of learning is on-the-job; 20% from informal learning / mentoring; and only 10% from formal education). Medicine has long been an outlier in this respect – it is why to become a doctor or nurse takes so long. It is the years of practical experience that are where the real learning and knowledge acquisition is bedded-in and understood.
For most of humanity’s existence, we did not learn in this way – we learnt by observation, imitation, and questioning those more experienced than us. From hunter-gatherers to the master-apprentice relationship. Through the majority of this time, we lived in small groups with flat hierarchies; the starkly hierarchical organisation is a relatively new construction – and while it has brought extraordinary progress and benefit to mankind, we have also lost elements with the erosion of personal independence, autonomy and the ability to be oneself at work in structured organisations.
In the 21st century, when machines are increasingly replacing many humdrum and routine jobs, it is the core ability of workers to be able to leverage their human skills that will make the difference between successful and failing organisations. However, it is not sensible to just go out and be oneself at work – in the wrong context, with the wrong attitudes prevailing, being ‘authentic’ at work can be a risky approach.
What is needed are leaders who can create conditions where people feel more able to be themselves. In many (most?) organisations this is not the prevailing culture. It requires leaders to be able to step back, to accept alternative processes and routes to objectives, to embrace diversity of thought and culture, to listen more and be less directive. For many sectors, particularly those which are highly regulated or necessarily risk-averse the opportunities for this will be more limited, but they will still exist. The main role of a leader is to set the conditions for others to do their best work; this need not conflict with regulatory or procedural rules.
The Scottish Leadership Institute has been created to provide opportunities for leaders – those who see themselves as being ‘ready for leadership’ at whatever point in their career or level of experience – to come together and strengthen their leadership development by learning from others leadership journeys, stories and challenges. It will offer a structured, ongoing pathway for that observation and mentoring to occur on – along with plenty of catalysing content and thinking. It will be a place where Scottish leaders can evolve their practice to enhance their organisations’ success through exchange and discussion in small trusting groups.
If you are interested in finding out more, visit Scottish Leadership and fill in the form online!