In 1907 Will Cobb and Gus Edwards laid out their 3 “R’s” of Education in the lyrics of their catchy little ditty “School Days”, when they spoke of “Reading, Writing & ‘Rithmetic”. In addition to playing fast and loose with alliteration, they reminded us that there are core concepts at the heart of learning. As life beyond the schoolroom invites us to continue to learn, we remain tethered to another set of R’s, having more to do with how we learn than what we learn. If our organization is to commit to growing leaders intentionally, then we are tasked with insuring that these 5 R-esources exist in strong supply within the environment we call work. When we take our eye off this dynamic ecosystem, we experience a stagnant culture and malnourished learners. But when we are awake to these R’s, we find ourselves amongst vigorous leaders, fixed on a shared mission.
The indigenous “stuff” of each industry is unique. Attorneys focus on the art of crafting legal briefs, medical personnel study diagnostics, and construction companies must be proficient in engineering concepts. The key to using information in the process of formation is to focus on quality, rather than quantity. Provide enough data to convince, inspire, empower and provoke and then allow learners to nourish themselves with the raw material they deem indispensable. Too often in shaping leaders we believe participants who binge on information will come to be healthy contributors to our mission. But, just as variety is the foundation of the 5 Food Groups, we must provide a diverse combination of learning experiences to promote growth. We can’t simply invite learners to a grand buffet table piled high with only one entrée and think it will suffice. Do we seek to support “learning” or only attempt “telling”? Is Raw Material the only resource we make available or do we incorporate the other R’s?
Learning is a dynamic experience. Our best lessons are often packaged in the brains and muscle memories of the humans we call colleagues. Their mistakes, insights, artful questions and demonstrated competence have the power to grow people. Unfortunately, too many times we posture ourselves as task managers, seeing our relationship with those around us as merely a means to an empty “to-do list”. When we ignore the significant opportunities to invest in others in ways which make them better, we become a puddle of parasites, rather than something more symbiotic and dynamic. In what ways have we integrated mentorship and peer learning as opportunities for development?
We are rarely shaped by our “every-once-in-awhile” experiences, no matter how grand. The perpetual tide of life works endlessly to erode insights unearthed by these periodic moments. Corporate retreats, training days and performance reviews collide with the inertia of the urgent and are eventually unraveled in its wake. Leaders are those who are able to set an enduring cadence of habits, which push back on the external squall. Do we value and model consistent habits and encourage others within our organization to do the same, or are we also tossed to and fro without anchor?
Risk is often the element of learning we most quickly set aside, because it is by far the messiest. We shrink back from the notion of inviting danger or orchestrating tension. However, Risk is an integral part of how we become better. This does not entail putting employees in positions where they might jeopardize key initiatives of the organization or may experience harm which would be difficult to overcome. On the contrary, when we invite employees onto the “tight-rope of risk” we certainly need to be working with a net. However, to commit to Risk means that we must eventually empower learners to walk the length of the rope without the aid of a training apparatus. We can’t allow them to merely sit and watch tight-rope training videos or hear tightrope walkers present their slides in the conference room. Vulnerability is essential. We want to supervise this practice so we can trust their competence when we are unable to supervise their performance. How are we engineering discomfort in a way which cultivates growth?
As with many integral elements of leadership, the modern work-day rarely has calendar space for reflection. It seems inefficient, idle and irresponsible. A sizeable aspect of growing is simply paying attention. We require margin and provocation in healthy doses if we are to make the most of what lies between those margins. Are we giving permission and resources for team-members to be awake to how they see themselves developing or do we commandeer every inch of their margin for output?
A learning and development climate set up to empower leaders can’t be sustained without intentionally investing in that environment. There is so much at our potential, no matter the organization we lead. It is up to us to tend to the leaders around us with Raw Material, Relationships, Rhythms, Risk and Reflection and watch them grow.