8 highly productive learning strategies used by leaders for amazing results

Learning has gotten interesting with the advent of technologygamification and the sudden explosion of content, but with so much around, it’s still challenging especially when it comes to application. We apply what we see and have done, and most often we stick with things that have worked before. We solve problems with patterns that we feel have helped us in the past. As leaders and managers, continuous learning is the norm and expectation rather than a choice, but we are struck, and the most common reasons are:

  1. Wanting to be a perfectionist
  2. Little appetite for risk
  3. Lack of confidence
  4. Overlooking past data – success and reasons of failure
  5. Being tangled in the past
  6. Chocked by emotions

Here are 8 highly productive learning strategies used by leaders for amazing results:

1. They are analytical and look for data:

Be data driven, when faced with a challenge/problem or contingency, hunt and find what causes it, get to the root of the problem. Sackichi Toyado the founder of Toyota Company, who was a son of a carpenter popularized asking ‘5 whys’ to get to the root of the problem.

When asking the why look for patterns just like the crime detectives who are able to connect the dots with the information they have.

This learning will help you be more aware of an upcoming problem. You will be able to raise red flags and work around strategies that will help you manage the contingency very effectively.

Raj was a BU head of a medium-sized IT organization, when he first handled a large crisis with a wrong budget estimation, flagging a budget risk, he quickly learned about critical priorities, how to scale back with diminishing resources, what programs cuts are feasible, inclusiveness of relevant stakeholders in the budgeting process, what changes needed to be incorporated to keep the client at hand and managing scope, by continually asking the ‘5 whys’ he was able to bucket the reasons, it gave him greater confidence, and it equipped him better for future contingencies of similar nature. Always keep looking for data just like Raj.

2. They are proactive problem-solvers:

Learn to analyze and focus on what are the key factors or elements in the problem? Are there parallels you could look up to? Journal the issues so that you have a record of how the problem emerges, also ask what’s the usual response and what can be done differently. Instead of just looking at patterns look for innovative and out of box ways to solve these patterns. For example when Motorola wanted to find out how to process orders more quickly, they headed to observe and learn from Domino’s pizza and federal express.

Keep looking for parallels in your problem story.

I see lots of startups collaborating with other founders from completely different startups to learn how to solve tough problems through easy solutions that are existent in a different form

3. They also seek help from experts:

Create a small expert go to team when you are overwhelmed with challenges, bounce ideas with them and then listen attentively, the key here is asking the right questions and then actively listening. Ask them for critical principles, drivers and things they usually would look for. Learn the overarching frameworks, models, and techniques they use which create both efficiency and effectiveness.

The best way is to shadow as they solve a real-time key challenge, this is possible if you have a great mentor.

Search for a respected mentor in your field and he/she will unlock key strategies that will open doors of opportunity for you. Prof. Mahabala is credited to have mentored the founding team of Infosys. An IIT professor who helped the team see possibilities. Guess who showed Narayanamurthy his first computer – Prof. Mahabala. He helped the team think outside the box.

4. They always work on the principle that learning is a process:

In a day and age where getting things instant is the anthem, we put ourselves in constant pressure to get things right the very first time. That simply means we want to get everything perfect in the first shot and we are more focused on big results, but more than often you will fail to see something important that’s missing and all you will get in return is a demotivated version of you. Start small, stay consistent, seek for feedback, the more often you fail small you will see the patterns and you will close the gaps. As with more gaps closed, you will move from one level to another.

Start small, stay consistent, seek for feedback, the more often you fail small you will see the patterns and you will close the gaps

The famed ‘helicopter’ shot of famous cricketer Dhoni was taught by his friend Santhosh lal, however, its one of the most difficult shots to hit, as it requires power and technique to waft the ball towards the leg-side. The backlift, momentum of the swing and power that flows from things to hips to forearms and into the wrist in itself is a miracle. But it’s taken countless practice and feedback from the failures for Dhoni to judge if a certain ball is ‘Helicopter ready’. It didn’t happen in a day, behind the magnificent shot are days of grit and perseverance and stories of failure.

5. The default mindset is – ‘What if the problem is a real opportunity?’

Remember you are the one person solving this problem among the million people in this world.

What if in itself was an opportunity presenting itself for the world starving for brilliant solution?

Take the case of Tesla autopilot cars, while the mass-produced the electric cars they came across a challenge car crashes caused by human error kills thousands every day worldwide. Tesla Motors under the leadership of Elon Musk went ahead to solve this challenge. Their beta testing has seen few failure stories but in comparison with the human error, the ratio is minuscule. This will change the way people think of cars, Tesla is taking this problem seriously even though there are other auto manufacturers who have been working on this for quite some time. What’s the opportunity, you are overlooking today?

6. They truly believe the team is the strength.

Think in a collective mindset, the widest diversity of backgrounds produce the most innovative solutions to problems. Set time frames, key objectives and gamify the experience, see how you could learn from this experience. Hackathons are a great way to produce tremendous results and phenomenal learning all packaged within a short burst of time.

7. They prolong thinking about the problem

Too often we are consumed by the thought of thinking of solutions without having a clear understanding of what the problem is and Taking time to understand the problem statement makes a key difference. We observe in our consulting work that senior leaders are too quick to suggest to us what the solution to a certain people development challenge ought to be, by overlooking the problem statement, the results achieved only fulfill vanity dashboards and has no real tangible outcome in the process.

8. They have a simple yet powerful model: Experiment – Test – Pivot or Continue.

Many studies show that 80% of innovations occur in the unexpected places, by unexpected people – dye makers developed detergent; Post-it® Notes was an error in a glue formula – and 30– 50% of technical innovations fail in tests within the company. Even among those that make it to the marketplace, 70–90% fail.

The bottom line on change is a 95% failure rate, and the most successful innovators try lots of quick, inexpensive experiments to increase the chances of success.

So be experiment driven, test, probe and you will learn beyond measure.

Learning as a leader or manager is tough due to the pressure of everyday work however when you dedicate time to think –apply – listen – pivot you will soon be one of the most sought influencers in your team, community, organization and the world around you. Learn and turn your results around.

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