second learningI applaud Erika Andersen, author of “Learning to Learn,” in the March, 2016, issue of Harvard Business Review, for tackling a critical and often neglected leadership topic.   Andersen’s argument is that being a good learner is critical to leadership. At Cerebyte, we agree with Andersen and often say that in order to be a great leader, you must be a great learner. In fact, we believe that “all great leaders are great learners.”   Andersen presents four attributes that contribute to being a great learner: aspiration, self-awareness, curiosity and vulnerability. All of these attributes are good as far as they go, but they ultimately are more about specific tactics of good learning than broader, repeatable strategies.   I think she needs to back up a little and first ask the question: Why are so few people great learners? We think it’s because most formal education teaches people to be passive learners so it’s difficult to overcome a lifetime of poor learning habits.   Simply describing four attributes isn’t going to make much difference in the face of such entrenched attitudes and behaviors. Andersen’s main implied response to this situation appears to be personal coaching, which is great for the people being coached, but not much use for anyone else.   How can you create a consistent system for teaching better learning? In our programs, where we have a specific objective to teach everyone to become great self-directed learners, it takes about eight weeks of guidance and support before people become sustainable self-directed learners. But, using the system, an organization can teach thousands of people at once to be great learners and leaders.   Our programs utilizes some of Andersen’s concepts, but in a different way. The first thing is a variation of Andersen’s notion of aspiration – the desire to learn to become better. Her thinking is that focusing on benefits is the key, which is correct, but it misses Dan Pink’s work on purpose.   Pink says that the single most powerful force driving aspiration is to have a compelling purpose. Purpose is not just a tactical benefit, but adds long-term personal and organizational value. Start with purpose and aspiration is sure to follow.   Next, Andersen uses the concepts of self-awareness, curiosity and vulnerability, all of which are very intangible. The challenge here is; how do you make these concepts real? In order to develop these capabilities, learners have get to a state of personal comfort and confidence with themselves and others sufficient enough to be OK with exposing their inner selves. The best way to do this is what we have seen that star leaders practice — what we call “courageous reflection.” Courageous reflection is the concept of systematically taking the time to reflect on the world in a way that is open and deeply honest.   Openness to learning derives from recognizing our own faults and being accepting of our humanity during these reflections. By practicing courageous reflection, the three other recommendations Andersen makes are achieved through one practice.   Our programs guide people into recognizing a compelling purpose and developing a habit of courageous reflection. This can be achieved for thousands of people at minimal cost.   Picture this: an organization where everyone is a great learner and a great leader. What an awesome place to work!]]>

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