Action Learning in Leadership Development

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Action Learning in Leadership Development
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands, Moderator
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

Action Learning ⇒ Leadership?
Andy Radka, Director, United Kingdom, SIG Leader
I believe that this is all quite true.
Exactly how does permanent behaviour change happens when you link AL with leading?
Working together on real issues that matter is fine though I wonder whether the same approach is valid when dealing with people issues.

Leadership is not by Mere Training, But Arousing the The Same from Within
C.L. Kappagomtula, Professor, Malaysia, Member
While Anneke Zwart is drawn towards the Action Leadership model by 'creating a contingent situation', Andy is spot on in raising a pertinent issue on the AL's effect on permanent behavioral change in the leaders.
We can see LEADER as an acronym for:
1. L - Learn the skill set(s),
2. E - Employ them where needed,
3. A - Appropriateness to the contingent situation,
4. D - Demonstrate its efficacy to all around them,
5. E - Every time successful
6. R - Relationship is maintained in the humans around him.
Thus, if we analyze each of these six aspects, we see that any amount of leadership training can be just case studies analyzing the past situation. We are hoping to get similar ones in an individual's leadership role.
A true leadership programme has to cement the aspects of above 6 elements of a leader in the individual in a profound manner.

Pitfalls in Action Learning Leadership
Tyrone Richards, Investor, Jamaica, Member
Action learning leadership is also subject to situations or experiences in the past.
Care should also be exercised when leadership engages in some action based exercise which may cross over into management functions in the end. I say this on the premise that the leader is instructive or directional in his relationship with management and he/she may interfere with management's control features.

Action Learning in Leadership Development
Kachope Kato A.B, HR Consultant, Uganda, Member
I can't agree more with Zwart and @Kappagomtula C.L, on the subject, thank you very much for the insights. Leadership development in organisations ouht to be be done right first time, in a holistic manner for long term sustainability of organisations.

Leadership Development using Action Learning in Argentina
Jose Luis Roces, Professor, Argentina, Premium Member
Our experiences during the last seven years in the Center for Development Leadership (CDL) of iTBA (Argentine private university) confirm all the Marquardt & Mumford elements of AL.
Leadership development is contextual, situational and voluntary. It needs tutoring more than coaching, somebody who can give you support to reflect on your behaviors and feelings. It is not a technical issue, but definitively is emotional.
Our participants are mostly engineers, so we know this type of challenge quite well. We have already developed 500 leaders over the last 7 years, our program last 8 months working on an AL basis.
There are no cases... The participants are their own cases. In their own context.

Experiences of Using AL in Leadership Development
Pam McAllister, Consultant, Australia, Member
To me the greatest value of using AL in leadership development has been that practitioners have embedded a practice of learning with others. They also come to see problems as an opportunity for learning about the system. The working problem is an event. By investigating it all members of the Action Learning Set learn about the system - learn about themselves, other people and the situation. The new understanding of the system provides all members of the Set the opportunity to prevent new problem events from occurring - in many situations.
It's less important to solve the immediate problem than to learn from it.
Of the Action Learning Sets created in our leadership programs some still are meeting over 10 years later, and more call on each other for support when challenges arise.
The process is about creating learning relationships.
Leaders also become committed to creating learning work places and have the process to facilitate that.
I've found AL a very useful tool for development of leaders.

Action Learning for Leadership
JC de Jong, Director, Netherlands, Premium Member
I really enjoy your contribution! Two things that I feel would complement what you are saying (I see them by the way also in some of the other comments):
- One is the importance of understanding that this way of developing / learning is based on a thorough understanding of the importance of relationships (Ken Gergen, Relational Being, Oxford, 2009)
- Secondly the mixture in the community of people (leaders) with practical experience, good facilitators and an audience that is prepared to reflect on their actions and results / consequences.

Setting Up Action Learning as a Leadership Development Tool
Vimala Suppiah, Coach, Malaysia, Member
I agree with @Pam McAllister. My work as an independent coach-consultant gave me an opportunity to steer senior management to accept AL as a leadership development tool for their middle managers within their succession planning program. It has worked! The managers whom I coach have come together to problem solving, using the 6 steps in their AL Sets.

What is the Most Critical Factor?
Pedro Ferrao, Teacher, Portugal, Member
What is the most critical factor?
Example: engaging people in setting a path for reflexive work about their behaviour...
And how do you handle it?

Special Interest Group Leader
Andy Radka

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