Great Leaders Embrace “Real Learning”

Great Leaders Embrace “Real Learning”

What is real learning? As children, we are taught in classrooms through books and lectures, then expected to obtain the skills taught and apply them to our lives and our jobs.

While traditional learning may lead to increased knowledge and new skills, it does not usually lead to changes in behaviors, mindsets, and new ways of doing things (innovation). It is through real-life, on-the-court experiences that real learning truly occurs; learning that has the power to reshape organizations and individuals.


We have moved from a learning paradigm of:

(Read Information – Acquire Knowledge – Apply Knowledge) To (On the Court Experiences – Reflection on Experiences – Apply Lessons Learned)

While there is value to acquiring knowledge and new skills, on-the-court learning experiences tend to have a stronger and more lasting impact on new behaviors and new mindset because you have first-hand experience.


What does Real Learning on the court look like?

1. It is messy, painful, unpredictable and joyful

Real learning is just that – it is real and emotional. Everyone always says that they learned the most from their biggest mistakes. When things don’t go the way you had intended, that’s when you tend to see the gaps and what’s missing. Many leaders do not properly prepare their teams and their organizations for transitions and changes that occur within the organization; therefore, uncontrolled chaos ensues. Change by its very nature is disruptive and chaotic. It is important to understand the challenges that will be present and communicate how to deal with them and provide support structures.

2. Being Open

Be open to seeing beyond any irritation, tension or conflict to see what the breakdown (conflict, tension) is disclosing/revealing. Rather than dwelling on what’s wrong and who’s to blame, try asking yourself a simple question – what is missing – a conversation, skill, commitment, support structure?

  • I am open to not knowing (willing to receive feedback)
  • I am open to an inquiry (reflection, considering a different way, being challenged)
  • I am open to a possibility (new ways of thinking and being)

3. Willing to Let Go

What am I willing to let go of so I can focus on what really moves the business forward?

Living in a mindset of excellence and redefining your relationship to mistakes.

  • From a mindset of Perfection – Mistakes = failure (major breakdown)
  • From a mindset of Excellence – Mistakes = stepping stones to move forward (new learning)

When you have a mindset where mistakes are simply part of the process and expected, you can view them as opportunities to learn more and growth rather than get frustrated by them.

Top 5 Reasons the C-Suite Struggles to “Let Go”

  • Fear – Worrying about what might happen
  • Habits – Old ways of leading – command and control vs inspire and enroll
  • Emotions – Anger vs choose to be curious – what is this experience showing me about myself that I don’t want to look at?
  • Narrow-Mindedness – Being right or a need to be right
  • Status/Position – My point of view/my opinion matters most

4. Willing to take Risks and Embrace Risk

Be courageous in conversations and actions to support a new future possibility. The future belongs to those who say and do what others are too scared to say and do; those who take bold actions will create the future by moving forward.

5. Willing to be Vulnerable

As a leader, especially in the C-Suite, speaking to your fears and uncertainties can feel quite intimidating, but vulnerability is where real power in the boardroom lies. Being able to say “I am afraid/scared” or “I don’t know how to handle the situation” opens the door for support and your team to provide ideas and insights for solving challenges.

6. Embrace Breakdowns to Create Breakthroughs

Breakdowns are formed from the frustration that comes from not getting the results desired. When the desired results are not achieved, an environment of tension, conflict, miscommunication, blame and irritation become present and lead to high emotions and less constructive conversation. When you embrace a breakdown (rather than let it tear you down) and see it as a learning opportunity, you can deflate the high emotions and energy, and find your way to a breakthrough by taking Responsibility for your part in the breakdown, being curious rather than angry (asking what’s missing), and being courageous through conversations of action that lead to action.

7. Embrace 1st Person Learning

There are 3 types of learning: 3rd person (obtaining knowledge), 2nd person (direct experience) and 1st person (on-the -court experiences).

First person learning is real learning; where you reflect on “on-the-court” experiences and capture lessons learned to move forward. You embrace raw learning when you are “living and experiencing” the learning.

8. Embrace Being in a Learning Community

Learning in a community means to learn with and around others. When you embrace a learning community, you are embracing open dialogue, being open to new ideas and thoughts, being held accountable, being challenged, and hearing and responding to others’ opinions

When you embrace “real learning” you are embracing the opportunity for real change.

 “I can’t tell you how many business leaders I meet, how many organizations I visit, that espouse the virtues of innovation and creativity. Yet so many of these same leaders and organizations live in fear of mistakes, missteps and disappointments – which is why they have so little innovation and creativity. If you’re not prepared to fail, you’re not prepared to learn.”

“There is no learning without failing, there are no successes without setback.”

  • Harvard Business Review – “How Coca-Cola, Netflix, and Amazon Learn from Failure” by Bill Taylor


Leadership Challenge:

Ask your team for some real feedback on your leadership and the leadership of the organization and be open to the real learning that comes from the discussion.


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