All 7 entries tagged Learning

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April 19, 2011

I think I have grown

I was re-reading a part of The New Economics (Deming, obviously!) for some project work, and I read something that made me think of a blog entry that I wrote a reeaaally long time ago. In fact, it was my first proper CBE entry... I invite you to check it out:

With all the talk of win-win environments we've had lately, it's particularly relevant, especially the comments section - feel free to comment on it if you like, it'd be fun to re-open that discussion. Reading back on what I thought at the beginning of this course, it made me realise just how far I have actually come in the last 6 months. It's quite astonishing actually! KBAM really did draw a lot of stuff together for me.

February 25, 2011

Learning leadership lessons

I am a little sad that the module is over, it was truly one of the most rewarding periods of study I have ever attempted :-) Of course, I know that nothing is really over. I will continue to learn about leadership for the rest of my life, the PMA will just be the next major step. I say major, because I am conscious that leadership is really just about engaging with people about ideas that you have, and I will have many, many opportunities to do that in the next six weeks, for sure!

I just decided to self-assess my performance as a leader during the last week, and was quite surprised by the results. By my count, we attempted five team exercises/simulations. I put myself forward as a potential leader four times, which quite coincidentally, all happened to be occasions when there were elements of competition between teams. Of these four (so not including 'Coffee Time' which was hugely valuable in itself), I was given the opportunity to lead three times. Of the three I lead, my team performed best twice, and second best once. On the other occasion, when I was a (proactive! :P) follower, my team also performed best, to the point that we became the first team in the history of Paul's experience with the exercise (which I assume goes back at least 5-10 years) to actually successfully complete. I could go on, but this already sounds quite crass and self-congratulatory to the point that people might start to hate my cocky attitude (:P), so I'll leave it with this: I didn't realise that I had that in me.

It could quite easily have been a fluke, and it might well reflect the fact that I was lucky to work with the people I did, because everyone always worked together quite well. But I won't deny that it gives me a huge amount of confidence in myself. I never really felt before, like I was capable of just jumping into any situation, knowing I'd be able to deal with it.

To introduce a problem to a team. To set my vision of what to achieve. To decide things together and not jump all over people's creativity, but also to know when to push my assertiveness more in the interest of the shared goals. To manage resources and time effectively. To try and coach people rather than tell them things they could/should do. To actively listen to others and put their suggestions into practice for the benefit of the team. To manage information quickly, and make decisions that reflect the best course of action. To put mistakes behind you before they drag morale down. To know when to refocus resources if a decision has not panned out the way you hoped.

Etc, etc, etc. These are just a few of my lessons learned, I know that I will be able to add to this list ad. infinitum

February 09, 2011

It can't be taught, but you're not born with it either!

I'm talking about leadership of course ;-) I think most of us on MBE agree that you can't teach it, it's experiential as Paul said. Reading back through some of the other blogs, I see some people feel that it is some kind of innate quality you are either born with or not. I completely disagree! I think the truth is somewhere in the Nature vs Nurture argument that Kieran brought to the fore, which is an argument worth having. 

Let us assume for a minute, that you're not born with it, and it can't be taught. How the hell are you supposed to get it, or be it?! Well, just because it can't be taught, that's not to say it can't be learned... It goes back to experiential learning, i.e. learning from experiences. Nobody is born, and then starts showing other babies how to stand and walk, or say their first word. These things are picked up from our very first leaders - our parents, and others who care for us as infants. You can't lead without first being lead. If you will agree that nobody is born with knowledge or innate understanding of the universe, then it follows that you must learn things in order for people to consider you to be someone worth following. And if you know nothing when you are born, what is it that makes you a leader? Sure, there are some genetic traits and characteristics that might predispose you towards leading, but in the end, we are all nothing but the sum of our experiences. As Awal says, leadership is all about the ability to learn from any situation and implement your learning. And so, we arrive back at PDSA! Hehe! My theory is that great leaders can probably do this better than most. 

I wish I had more time to develop this, maybe you guys can help me if you find the time...

To finish, here is my personal definition of leadership, refined from the one that my group collectively created. I'm settling on it for now, but I expect it will change as I do. But for now, it is right, because it is right for ME!

"The art of forming a vision and influencing others towards sharing it, such that they think and act to help make it a reality."

How can I do it better than my way?

By hearing what others think!

I want to start today, by talking about myself... I led my team in the Winning Strategy exercise. In the style of Vineet Nayar (who I find impressive, and a great example of an unconventional but brilliant-because-of-it leader) I wanted to post their feedback here, because I am interested in what other leaders were told, and I'm hoping you will post. I wonder where the common ground will be... I also wanted to be brave, and put this out there, so people can tell me in the future if they think I've improved or not. For the sake of not typing 5 sheets worth of comments, with differing opinions, I have tried to capture the sense of what was said while condensing. I feel I am being objective, but this may have introduced a degree of bias. If any of you feel I am being too generous, please say so! I can take it ;-)

I was told:


  • Introduced the task well.
  • Regularly got the opinions of others, and took these in/responded to/noted them. Quite receptive.
  • Kept a close eye on time, and managed the necessary tasks well within it. Reminded team of times regularly.
  • Was cool/calm under pressure. Showed he felt it, but also that the pressure was on the team, not just him.
  • Delivered a successful outcome.
  • Had the support and engagement of most followers.
  • Impressive style, with a very balanced, democratic approach.
  • Indirect leadership/He's a thought leader.

    Areas for Improvement

    • Needs to make sure everyone is engaged.
    • Should try to give more direction and a vision from the outset, and show the strategy to get there.
    • Make more effort to directly assess people's skills at the beginning, and make use of their strengths.
    • Easily swayed by arguments. Needs to be 'flexibly' firmer with decision-making and own opinion/vision.

    My own opinions on this? Well, I was reasonably happy with my performance. I think it was a very difficult task, but only because of the lack of time. I made the point that what we did in an hour and a half, you would probably have a few weeks to do in reality. One interesting thing: most of the group thought I was very calm. In reality, I was going a bit crazy in my head! I didn't enjoy having to try and pick one strategy over another, without having the time to fully understand any of them, and this was made harder as most of the team had conflicting views about what was the best way to go.

    Ultimately, I took everything in, and made the decision myself about two minutes before I had to present it. The time pressure forced me to lead instinctively rather than methodically. So, not much time to assess skills, or organise my own thoughts. It was uncomfortable, as I am a reflector, but I guess that was the point. From what I can gather from the above, I do some things quite well. BUT, I need to work on being more direct when the time calls for it, outlining my vision so others have something to follow, and being more decisive, while making sure that everyone contributes, in the way that they best can.

    Not bad for a few hours' learning, I think!

    December 14, 2010

    The Other Kind of Module

    Having now had two modules specific to MBE, and two that were not, I am absolutely certain that I picked the right course for me. CBE and PIUSS were run and presented in a way that was quite innovative and unique to me: I can barely recall a dull moment, other than occasionally perhaps during repetitive group presentations! ;-)

    FACS was actually really interesting once we got into it. The pre-work was soul-destroying and full of innacuracy that made it difficult and frustrating to learn from, but the tutors made a lot of the contact time so interactive that it made up for it. That said, there were certainly a lot of times when we lectured to (rather than partners in a dialogue) for long periods that put me to sleep. The element of learning by doing was there though.

    Having just endured ReMe 1, I remembered why I didn't enjoy most of my undergraduate degree here. So much of it was set up in the same way. A single lecturer attempting to 'deliver' material to 300 tired, bored students, 80% of whom probably spent more time fiddling with their phone than keeping up with what was going on (I include myself here), all against a backdrop of 100 mini-conversations at any given time. I don't think there was a single lecturer who didn't have to pause or ask for quiet more than once, which is rarely the case when people are engaged.

    Obviously, from a logistical viewpoint, it probably has to be this way. When you need to get the same information across to so many people, how else can you do it? But while it might be fast and efficient, it is certainly not effective as a means of conveying information in a useful way. Plus, a lot of people have probably been turned off from getting into their literature review, or are not scared at the scope of the task ahead.

    So, was it a waste of time and effort? No, of course of not. What I can say - and it's not a bad thing, maybe it was their true purpose all along - is that at least I didn't have to try and read through all that information in one go myself. I feel I have a basic overview of what is required, and where to go to learn more. But I think the lecture style of teaching is outdated, and not really fit for purpose in general.

    To add balance here though, the mindmapping session was great - not because the concept is new (it couldn't possibly be to anyone on MBE), but because it opened it up in my mind from being a brainstorming tool, to something you can actually use to structure sections, PMA's, projects, etc. The aspect of the software that allows you to effectively create a full writing plan when you export to word is pure genius!

    Overall, it makes me so thankful for the Learning Environment the MBE tutors have developed. Probably, because it's actually possible, and even quite likely, that you will learn something within it!

    December 07, 2010

    The best Learning Organisation experience I've ever had! – An epic tale

    Doing my PMA on LO's got me thinking about whether I could claim to ever have had a true experience of anything like that, prior to joining MBE, which of course is nothing if not an organisational learning environment for us all. 

    Senge's Fifth Discipline spoke of how most of us at one point or another in our lives have been part of a team that may not have been much to start with, but learned together and went on to be extraordinarily excellent. I looked back at my life: I couldn't find much in most of my jobs (excluding maybe my present one which certainly demonstrates a lot of the characteristics), or in sports teams I have played in. There were maybe a couple of times during school or at uni where certain group projects, but these were often short lived. Just then, a really striking example hit me: my band at Warwick, The Black Dogs. I really wanted to share it with you all. This is going to be a long one, so only stick around if you have some time! :P

    We started in my first year here (so, Oct 2007). A few of us, with varying musical influences (from classic rock and blues, to indie, punk and funk) got together, wanting to form a band. Most of us were self-taught, and had a really strong passion for our instruments because no-one had ever made us learn, we just desperately wanted to (personal mastery in action). Also, most of us had never played in a band before! It started slowly...

    We ran for a year, trying to come up with original songs, doing cover versions, but not really getting anywhere. With hindsight, I can see that time wasn't wasted. We were learning. About ourselves, each other, the local music scene, and all the while, our ability to play our instruments and write music together was improving.

    But it wasn't quite working - we were limited by two of our members. One (the bassist) wasn't committed, missed practices and was always late. Why? I'm not sure. He was what we referred to in CBE as the 'walking dead'. We tried to turn him around for about 6 months, but at that point, we could all see (systems thinking) he was holding us back. Moreover, he was rarely willing to compromise on his style to work for the benefit of us all. He had to go. Another (the drummer), maybe wasn't quite up to it. Again, his style conflicted with the rest of ours, and technically, he wasn't proficient enough for our purposes. To boot, he had a fear of playing live! While a keen member, he knew it wasn't working either, and chose to leave. There are no hard feelings between any of us, I still see them both around campus to this day. The drummer even helped us in another capacity - he later designed our logo.

    So we were left with a big hole in Jan 2009 - ask anyone, a rock band with no rhythm section will struggle! Myself as lead guitarist, a very close friend as the vocalist and rhythm guitarist, and another on keyboard. I had always been the one playing the leader/facilitator role - I set out to head hunt some new musicians, with the benefit of now knowing a lot more people on the scene. We re-branded at this point, changing our name to what it now is.

    I quickly found a new drummer, a fresher who'd been playing for 15 years (aged just 19!) and proved to be a whirlwind behind a drum kit. It took a lot longer to find a bassist, but through contacts, I eventually managed to do it. We all got together and jammed, and it seemed promising - the new guys clicked well with us, their influences and styles were so much more similar. I can now see that our mental models were better matched, not just musically, but also in what we wanted out of the experience.

    As a band, when they joined, we had two songs complete, after a year. Within the next three weeks, we had another two complete, and had booked in for our first gig, as well as entering the university's Battle Of The Bands competition. Talk about transformation! What happened in that time you ask? I can barely explain it, everything just started to work. We met regularly, whether to practice, or to socialise and plot our domination. As I mentioned, our mental models matched closely, and with some further surfacing and improvement, we were able to align them even better. Our influences narrowed from what they were initially to something new, a compromise that worked for us. We had broken down barriers between our mental models and created something new - a shared vision, built together, that we were all serious out succeeding in.

    And, oh the fun we had. I can't explain it really, but in and out of the practice room, we just clicked. We had worked out what our system needed to thrive, found it in the right people who gave us the foundation for our ballsy, bluesy, folk rock. Jamie and Nick (the newbies) could lay down a groove together, to match something Pem had written. Pem, Nick and myself could adjust the rhythm and melody to fit the song. Dan and myself could then embellish with lead parts, onto which Pem projected his fantastically strong voice. The result, an adding of value on a remarkable scale, from the sum of our instuments and skills to music that meant something to us (and others) on an emotional level. It felt good!

    That year, we went from nothing to reaching the semi-finals of the Battle Of The Bands competition. We also made a name for ourselves and were invited to play many more gigs. That was repeated last year, although we reached the finals of the competition instead.

    My overall experience. We went from something I had dreamt about as a teenager to one of the more popular and successful bands at Warwick last year (I know, it's a small pond!). I never really had the knowledge and awareness of terminology to understand what had transpired naturally there, until now. If you like, you can listen here:

    I recommend you turn the volume up.

    Have any of you ever been part of an LO? Are you often hoping to be again, or wondering how you might re-create those conditions? Tell me your story! And thanks for reading this epic!

    December 04, 2010

    Finding your own way

    The time is nearing for submission of the first PMA. I am a little worried - I lost about 2.5 days of work this week due to illness, which has left me with a lot more to do this weekend than just the final editing, formatting and reflection writing I had planned. Still, it's coming along.

    One thing I have found time and again with this topic is that there are so many potential definitions of what Learning Organisations and organisational learning. Every time I come across a new one, I start questioning what I previously read on the subject. While this is a good thing, it is also extremely annoying! It has lead to a lot of false starts, and the need to find new information to back up new ideas I have found. Also, it becomes ever-more clear that perhaps the reason for this is because no Learning Organisation is ever the same - they are all unique, so what applies to one will have very little to do with another, for the same reason that TPS only really works for Toyota.

    So, to become one, and pursue excellence through the various possible frameworks, possibly the biggest challenge during the self-assessment process is working out what separates your company from others. Understanding those differences might be the key to transforming successfully. You have to trust yourself to find your own way to excellence, if you ask for the directions someone else took, you'll almost certainly end up in the wrong place and lost. There is no real prescriptive approach.

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