Is Leading While Learning Really Effective

For the most part, I believe organizations have subscribed to the “do the job then get the job” philosophy. Employees are given responsibilities in stages. Then, after demonstrating competence, they are promoted to the official role. We can debate whether it’s right or wrong all day. That’s not the point of the post. The bottom line…it’s happens…a lot.

leadership, leaders, managers, management, skills, strategy

An important piece to that philosophy is to recognize when employees are being groomed for additional responsibilities and need some training or skill building in order to become effective. It’s one thing to teach someone how to complete a report and transition responsibility for producing that report to them. It’s another when an employee needs to gain skills in how to coach an employee’s performance as part of their supervisory role.

Traditionally, a new supervisor would participate in some sort of management skills training program or leadership development program to gain those necessary skills. And, ideally, that would occur before a supervisor takes on the role. So they get the opportunity to practice the skill in a “safe” environment before they have to use it for the first time.

In the last IBM CEO Study, the concept of “leading while learning” was mentioned. It’s the idea of being prepared to constantly reinvent yourself as the fast-paced business world changes. It’s also about learning from your existing network as a piece of that reinvention .

Very interesting concept because it poses so many questions.

Does this mean companies will flip the practice and employees will “get the job then do the job”?

How does this impact training and development for the purposes of replacement planning and succession planning?

Or do the same rules still apply and the concept of leading while learning only applies to subsequent changes?

Maybe the idea of leading while learning is tied to corporate culture. I wonder if there’s any data to suggest how high-performing organizations view the training/responsibility dynamic and which comes first – getting the training or getting the job?

At some point, businesses will need to decide the relationship between when an employee gets responsibility for a task and when they get training for it. It has a strong business implication.


  1. says

    ‘Leading while learning’ is very clearly growing as an important cultural driver in many American organizations. It manifest itself as – ‘we value people who are self-starters who can figure things out on their own and are self-motivated to develop and promote themselves.’ This shift is partially driven by the cost-cutting emphasis within organizations during the past 12 years and the rise of more quality on-line forms of self-education offerings.

    It also seems to be driven by the complexity of organizational life and the lack of time available and rewards given to people who truly manage people well – so people who do not need to be managed and developed are just preferred.

    Most leaders in organizations know this is an issue and talk about the importance of developing and retaining talent (which by the way is code for people) – but actions, time and money are not following their words.

  2. says

    “Do the job, then get the job”–I agree that is often what it is until they can’t do whatever’s next. The “Peter Principle”. And this is particularly egregious when an organization attempts radical change.

    Otherwise accomplished managers tapped to lead the change effort may be the last people who should have been selected. The result? Just short of a 60% goal achievement failure rate (McKinsey & Co 2002, IBM Global Business Services 2008).

    Fortunately this is an addressable problem although not one enough companies recognize and act to fix, enough of the time.
    Bill Matthies recently posted..Successful change requires the cooperation of others.