Learning something new isn’t just about concentration but is more about practice. Dr. Douglas Fields, a neurologist at NIH, reported that spaced learning which provided three learning opportunities with 10 minute intervals between each session created a much higher percentage of the learning having “stuck” in the individual learner’s mind and then being able to apply it rapidly and effectively. In practical terms that translates to repeating a particular learning experience one time and then taking a 1o minute break before doing it again. A bit of rinse and repeat and repeat.
In our new book, Retooling Leadership Development, Mike Couch as I assert that learning new leadership skills must happen in the day to day world of the aspiring or established leader and it is only by practicing the skills required, will the new skills be gained.
I was having a discussion with an SVP of a global health care company recently where I’ve been working with his leadership team to develop the key skills they need to grows his business division. He non-chalantly comments that his key leaders needed to develop a better strategic mindset so that they could get out of their operational focus and begin to think more “big-picture.” When I asked him how he would do that, he told me that he just expected them to begin thinking more in that manner. “How,” I exclaimed did he expect them to do that when we already established that they do not know how to do it!. We went back and reviewed a few of the specific behaviors associated with strategic thinking that could benefit the business:
- Is able to identify and state future trends and shares his or her ideas with others
- Goes beyond seeing competitive opportunities and instead creates breakthrough ideas that specifically benefit the business.
- Articulates credible scenarios identifying the risks and rewards
- Is able to take her or his ideas and create a road map that will accelerate the opportunity into reality.
Going beyond knowing what behaviors we want is then to identify how we create that kind of strategic mindset. For sure, not everyone has the strategy gene, but we don’t need perfection just improvement. His managers didn’t need to be A students of strategy but instead we could succeed with solid B participants. When we finished mapping out a few ideas for learning, we came up with these ideas for starters.
- Put strategy on his weekly agenda and have a series of discussion around the corporate strategy and their competitors strategy. Have team members present their strategic perspective to the group
- Have each person identify and describe their own strategic “through line”. What is their line of business’s contribution to the larger business strategy.
- What is it that each person needs to do better to become a better strategic thinker and how can they use the 3X10 learning method to master some new strategic skill.
Finally, I pointed out to him that learning does not only happen in formal settings but more frequently in informal settings. I wanted him to watch for opportunities to look for strategy discussions with his team. Maybe it was an article in the Wall Street Journal he could cite or a posting on the company’s intranet about a new business acquisition. The opportunities for learning abound on a daily basis. Once we see the possibilities, you won’t be able to miss them.