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  • Writer's picturePhil Cole

The Moment of Learning

The moment of learning is not when we read the idea or when we try it out for the first time, or even the moment when we think about it in a situation.

The moment of learning is when a practice or a behavior becomes the answer to a problem that we have. This is when we can take that behavior and apply it to a specific situation to get the outcome we want - that is the moment when the behavior is learned.

As a leader, learning has occurred when we experience a change in our behaviors as described by the definition.

What this tells us is that we have to get all the way through the adult learning cycle before learning has occurred. It does us no good if we do something once and then we can never do it again. It does us no good to sit in a classroom and then go back to work and engage in the same behaviors we were doing before the class. Behavioral change as a measure of learning exists only when we can use the behavior in a real world setting.

It isn’t necessary to use a behavior with a certain frequency. While we might not need a specific behavior on a regular basis, we have to be able to extract it from our memory when the appropriate situation presents itself. This occurs when we understand the usefulness of the behavior - when the behavior is the appropriate and effective way to address a problem or situation.

And I’ll take this one step further - we almost certainly have to tweak the behavior slightly to match the differences in each situation, which is a greater level of learning. This means we have to be comfortable enough with the learned behavior to not simply apply it, but to assess it in relation to the situation and adapt it to be an effective solution. When we are capable of applying a behavior in this manner, we have learned it.

As I have repeated throughout the section on the process of learning, the first core, is not an easy thing to do. It requires a willingness to change and a dedication to follow through the entire process until we reach a change in behavior. These requirements mean that many learning opportunities are presented to us and then lost. We miss so many chances to change our behavior because learning is difficult and often invisible. Consequently, we repeat ineffective behaviors and limit our effectiveness as leaders.

By recognizing the entire process of learning, and the role learning plays in leadership as described by the definition, we can begin to use the opportunities that present themselves to improve our capabilities as leaders. We do this by both recognizing the opportunities when we would be more effective by changing our behavior, and by following the process through until that change happens. That is, we recognize when learning should occur, and we press on until it does occur.

This is one of the great secrets of successful leaders. They are engaging in the learning process more frequently and more completely than other, less successful leaders. But many are doing so unconsciously, without understanding the role and process of leadership. Applying deliberate focus to learning allows us to move a step ahead of even the most successful leaders who engage in unconscious learning.

When measured over a lifetime of learning opportunities, this awareness changes the entire scope of what we can do. As we build a successful leadership practice one learning opportunity at a time, we develop a library or toolkit of behaviors that allow us to respond effectively to an increasing number of situations. If we allow the process to continue, if we avoid stagnation or the belief we know it all, then the number of situations continues without end as well.

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