Action Learning in Leadership Development

Action Learning
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Best Practices
Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

Action Learning in Leadership Development

Leadership development programs that most organizations currently use do not deal with all dimensions necessary for becoming an excellent leader, according to M. Marquardt.
As a result, leaders are perfectly able to handle problem-solving models, but they have difficulties to deal with human dimensions such as demoralization of workforce.
Most of the times leadership development programs give a lot of attention to the technological aspects, but omit the social skills needed for excellent leadership.
This is exactly where Action Learning (AL) can help as it is a more powerful method for leadership development: it takes into account all dimensions in which leaders and managers are operating, therefore AL creates “whole leaders”. AL can also be very useful in the development of individual leadership skills.

Marquardt mentions that according to Mumford (1995) there are 6 elements of action learning that are effective for leadership development:
1. FOCUS ON ACTION SKILLS: While traditional development programs focus primarily on gathering information and diagnosing and analyzing, AL is emphasizing creating skills for effective action taking.
2. Taking effective action can only be learned by taking action, analyzing a situation in which you should take action is not sufficiently.
3. The best way to learn to take action is by means of working on a particular problem or situation that is important for the leaders themselves.
4. According to Mumford, leaders learn most rapid with and from each other, because problems can be shared and solutions can be found together. Since AL is about bringing a group together to work on problems solving and an action plan, it is the best way of learning.
5. While the traditional leadership development programs are often guided by inexperienced professors on the field of leadership, AL is working together with potential leaders and guided by a skilled learning coach who knows how to use the collective experience of a group to develop learning-opportunities.
6. AL is learning by being exposed to real problems and to the insights of a group, which is more effective than learning from case study / simulation.
- M. Marquardt. (2000). “Action Learning and Leadership”. The Learning Organization, Vol. 7
- Mumford, A. (1995). “Managers Developing Others through Action Learning''. Industrial and Commercial Training, Vol. 27 No. 2, pp. 19-27

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