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Developing Leaders: Turning Life into Learning

According to Deloitte, organizations and individuals globally spend more than $50B annually on leadership

follow the leaders

Photo by Jehyun Sung on Unsplash


Last year, these dollars were spent on a wide variety of activities designed to build leadership competencies and skills. These activities range from external educational programs and partnerships to internally developed face-to-face webinars, and e-learning. They include everything from development experiences and stretch assignments to 360 surveys and one-on-one coaching; from action learning teams and communities of practice to simulations and assessment centers; for job rotations to strategic mentorship, and more.

Despite the pandemic, no expense was spared in some organizations to surround leaders with the activities, resources, and tools necessary to elevate their capacity to guide, inspire, and influence individuals and business results. Yet other organizations chose to shift their focus in a profound way. Rather than dishing up external experiences to build leadership capacity, they used this extraordinary time to begin exploring a new – internal – frontier.

For the average leader, life is filled with an ever-changing kaleidoscope of challenges that offer tremendous opportunity for learning and growth. Ordinary occurrences during a normal day at work can be as instructive as the most carefully crafted training exercise… for a leader who recognizes this… for a leader who knows how to turn life into learning.

Extracting Insights from the Daily Grind to Develop Leaders

Organizations can redeploy billions of training dollars each year by focusing on helping leaders mine their regularly scheduled lives for deep insights, feedback, strategies and solutions. Rather than offering additional programs, organizations can teach and support leaders to build reflection loops into the work day. Some might call it mindfulness. But for hard-nosed business professionals, it’s just about taking a moment and gathering meaningful feedback real-time to efficiently drive personal and organizational change.

What if we learned to mine the mundane events that surround us every day? What if we got into the habit of extracting insights from the daily grind?

What if we developed the discipline to look inside for genuine learning rather than outside for the artifacts of it?

This new frontier could offer a less expensive, more available and totally customized development experience for leaders at all levels of the organization – as well as a genuine and sustainable culture of learning and performance. The way it works is to support leaders in building a new mental routine or set of habits; and it’s a straightforward as 1, 2, 3.

  1. Leaders set aside 10 minutes at the end of each day for reflection. Depending upon the preferred processing mechanism, people engage in a mental review.  They can journal or discuss the challenges they faced, actions they took, and results they achieved.
  2. They then take 5 or so minutes to crystalize specifically what they learned during that day and how they can use that learning the next day. Leaders write down their learning to create a learning log.
  3. Each week, a 10-minute review of the learning log will highlight themes, illuminating recurring challenges and the skills and practices that best address them.

This efficient practice yields the most visceral and relevant learning experience possible. With time – like anything – these simple steps become habit. When leaders allow for self-generated learning, others will see how effective the approach is.

It’s time to recognize real life for the powerful classroom it is… and help leaders – and everyone – develop the capacity to translate life into learning.


Originally published on SmartBrief

6 comments on “Developing Leaders: Turning Life into Learning

  1. Eileen McDargh on

    The greatest skill is the ability to learn. What it requires however, is humility that the leader does NOT know everything. Love your advice for self-learning using reflection and journaling. I’ve found it is helpful to have a learning buddy who is on the same journey and for observations to be shared. For both of us, Julie, I know we have relished the opportunity to come together with our clients and sit as guides on the side in this learning journey.

    • Julie Winkle Giulioni on

      You are so right, Eileen. What a difference it makes when you partner with someone who understands the path you’re on… and will hold you accountable for the intentions you’ve set. Your clients are indeed fortunate to have you playing that role with/for them!

  2. Faiza M on

    Julie, thank you for sharing. Interestingly enough, I started reflecting on my day this year. I take 10 minutes (at least most days) to reflect on the day and see what went well, where did I struggle and what I can do next time. I have already started seeing a pattern on certain things.

    Eileen McDargh, what a great idea of having a learning buddy who is on the same journey as you.


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