Positioning Yourself for Successful Learning Leadership Series Part One

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Tracy Cox

Part One—Preparing to Become a Learning Leader

This is the first of a five-part series on key elements associated with your success as a new learning leader. The observations made are based on several sources including: results from a detailed survey of 122 learning leaders across the globe in most major markets cutting across experience and reporting level, interaction with client learning leaders and our own experience in designing and delivering leadership development programs.

The five-part learning leadership series will focus on:
  • Preparing to become a learning leader
  • The first 60 days of being a learning leader
  • Increasing your effectiveness in early and mid-career as a new learning leader
  • The importance of social capital in the near term to position you for learning leadership success in the long term
  • Avoiding common mistakes that diminish your reputation as a learning leader
The actions learning leaders engage in, the insights learning leaders gain and the relationships learning leaders develop in the first two months on the job are critical to long-term success. Whether you are a new chief learning officer, vice president of learning or training director, expectations for your role will be high, the organization you join will be politically complex, and the team you lead will form their opinions of you based on your first critical decisions and actions. Indeed, every interaction with a stakeholder will enhance or diminish your learning leadership reputation.

Preparing to Become a Learning Leader

So, how does one best prepare to be a new learning leader? Well, our experience and our respondents’ experience both point to the organizational functions from which you come. In fact, 46 percent of those asked responded that having a human resources background was very helpful in one’s preparation to become a learning leader. Following closely behind (40 percent) was program management. One might infer from this response that two important qualities of a learning leader are: 1) having a deep understanding of people, careers, incentives, reward and recognition, professional development and growth; and 2) having a programmatic background to understand the business side of the organization; being able to plan, forecast, budget; being fiscally responsible; and managing an organization.

The second area of learning leadership preparation focuses intently on competencies and capabilities of the prospective learning leader, and, overwhelmingly, the advice centers around two: relationship management and business acumen. It is critical to new learning leaders success that they know the business inside and out. It is equally important that learning leaders have solid relationships with key stakeholders built on trust and reputation focusing up, down and horizontally in the organizational structure. In fact, two quotes submitted by our survey respondents summarize these points nicely: "Learn the politics of the company. Not to conform to them, but to ensure you have them in mind in any conversation you are in." And, "It is critical that learning leaders proactively build partnerships with key managers and align their strategic vision with the business goals. A learning leader’s career choices, relationships and lead-by-example methodology will quickly define how others may see you in a learning leadership role for the organization."

First published on Human Resources IQ.