On Leader-Led Learning: Q&A with Lisa Martin

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The leadership coach and bestselling author shares insights on what leader-led learning is and how it can complement classroom-based learning and development.

Lisa Martin, Founder, Lisa Martin International | Leadership Development
Courtesy: Lisa Martin International

Lisa Martin is the founder of Lisa Martin International, a boutique firm which equips organizations to deliver powerful leadership development in-house. We got on the phone to talk about the growing leader-led learning trend: what it is, how managers can benefit, and how it can enhance your existing HR-led learning and development programs.

“It’s about supporting your team and organization to grow.”

What is leadership? Why are those skills important?

Leadership is a choice—you decide if you want to take on a leadership role. That can look really different, from person to person, or from role to role, or from organization to organization, but fundamentally it’s about supporting your team and helping your organization to grow.

How do you develop leadership skills?

How leaders go about developing these skills can vary depending on their learning style. Some leaders will learn better from experience, being in the trenches, stretching themselves, and taking on new roles and opportunities. Some will learn well by having a mentor or a coach to support them. Some leaders learn best from assigned study and reading. Others learn better by taking a formal teaching or learning program. Some need to learn how to lead through a combination of these.

Most people learn through their own experience in the workplace and the people that they work with: not only the people they report to, but the people who report to them, or the people they work alongside.

What is leader-led learning? How is it different from the traditional HR-led learning and development that happens in many organizations?

In leader-led learning, line managers or direct managers work closely with their teams to ensure that the learning gained in formal training sticks.

For example, say you and I work together, you’re my leader, and you really would like me to learn to communicate better in the workplace. A leader-led approach to learning means you’ll take the time to teach me these things, most likely through groups discussions and role-play. We might re-enact a business-focused situation where we have to use communication and talk about the situation.

The key to leader-led learning is having a conversation so we can really learn from each other, in the moment, and be very conscious of it. HR-led, classroom-oriented learning still needs to happen, but a leader-led approach helps expand the learning opportunities and helps make that knowledge stick. Because if you’re not applying what you learned in the classroom, you’re not going to get the behavior changes you want to see.

What is leader-led learning? How is it different from HR-led learning and development?

Leader-led learning is more about having line managers or direct managers working closely with the team to ensure that learning sticks after a formal training has occurred.

For example— say you and I are together in a workplace and you’re my leader and you really would like me to learn to communicate better in the workplace. Part of the leader-led learning requires you to take the time to teach me these things. Mostly likely it would be within groups or within a team, for example, we might have discussions or conversations around communication. We might do some real life example, for example, reenact a business focused situation where we have to use communication and talk about the situation.

The key to leader-led learning is having a conversation so we can really learn from each other, in the moment, and be very conscious of it. HR-led, classroom-oriented learning still needs to happen, but a leader-led approach helps expand the learning opportunities and helps make that knowledge stick. Because if you’re not applying what you learned in the classroom, you’re not going to get the behavior changes you want to see.

What are the benefits? For leaders, employees and the organization as a whole?

These programs offer more flexibility than traditional HR-model learning. In leader-led programs, the leaders determine how and when their team members learn, creating autonomy. The programs also help leaders stay accountable to their teams, which enhances engagement on both ends.

Offering these programs to the people inside your organization is also a great way to attract people to your organization. With the competition to attract the best talent these days, employers need to take advantage of many different ways to attract talented people.

“If you’re not applying what you learned in the classroom, you’re not going to get the behavior changes you want to see.”

How do the Lead + Live Better programs support this trend?

We teach leaders how to teach—which is basically a combination of face to face learning, homework assignments, and conversations that happen between leaders and their team. Our job is to enable these conversations because they’re where the true learning happens. Even though the conversations might not always be about the content, if they are the result of the content, that’s where the real growth is.

The Lead + Live Better programs include 5 turnkey solutions—they run from foundational leadership skills to positive psychology practices. LEAD and LEAD Advanced focus on leadership, LEAD For Women focuses on balancing a family and a career, and LEAD + LIVE and LEAD + LIVE Advanced focus on life skills and positive psychology.

What are some common mistakes leaders make, coaching and developing their team members?

Many leaders tend to help their team fix problems, instead of coaching them to come to their own solutions.

The intention is positive, but it’s also gratifying for the person giving the advice, and not always gratifying for the person receiving it. You want to help people figure out their own solutions, instead of telling them how to solve their problems—so that both the leader and employees will grow.

What’s a first step leaders can take to become better teachers for their team members?

Listen. And I mean listen on both levels: from listening to other people, to listening to yourself and how you’re responding or not responding to a situation around you. In other words, pay attention to your environment.

Learn about the turnkey LEAD leadership programs and read more of Lisa’s insights on her blog.


Christian De Pape, Recruiting Social’s Head of Marketing and Content
About the author

Christian De Pape is the head of brand experience at Recruiting Social. Connect with him on LinkedIn.


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