Experiential Leadership - Symposium Learning

May 18, 2022

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In the past months I designed multiple bespoke training programmes dedicated to the role of the Manager in this new brave world of distributed teams.

I have 2 key considerations stemming from the experience

  1. Management training programmes created to primarily fit organisational ambitions tend to receive fewer positive reviews
  2. Managers want a Tool Kit –a short cut on how to use the techniques described on LinkedIn, HBR and other sources readily available.

Usually I am engaged by Lead HR business partners: after the first few conversations I design the programme and get approval by senior management. Once the programme content is generated and the training is rolled out.

Most of my trainings begin with a contracting exercise: as an workplace educator I need to secure that the expectations of the attendees match the content.

Over 80% of the answers to “What you want from this training?” begin with “How to” followed by action words like “prevent, ensure, facilitate.” Managers are asking for bullet pointed actions that can be applied in very specific situations. I often refer to it as requiring “a recipe book” with ingredients and sequential order of action.

Common topics listed by Managers when discussing Hybrid/Distributed/Flexible Teams

  • Practical skills
  • How to use time on site/off site
  • How to foster collaboration
  • How to integrate new staff

Managers are interested on how to convince people to return to the workplace, less how to foster the new culture of hybrid workplace. Managers are struggling in supporting remotely new colleagues and may not find clarification in models of asynchronous communication.

Managers can read the blogpost by Daniel Goleman independently with their morning coffee – but they want to know how Empathy actually manifest itself in a disciplinary meeting over Zoom.

When a learning facilitator becomes too normative however, the manager risks to apply any of the shared tricks out of context and generate resistance rather than results.

The challenge as a content creator is to provide an array of novel examples and techniques that a manager can use and that also fit with the organisation’s ambition of enhancing skills and promoting critical thinking.

I suggest to organisation to run focused Training Need Analysis that detect these demands before the audience joins the Training. Collecting employees’ insight is always a challenge and organisations might need to engage in multiple training analysis– however, it is a wise investment.

Action based learning objectives are best achieved via internal coaching and mentoring or during workshop focusing on experiential role-play. Breakout rooms or small focus group discussion tend to be insufficient to provide hands on knowledge. It is crucial for the learner to know where these insight can be gained.

To bridge the challenge, I ask all attendees to prepare by completing a 10 mins of reflecting journaling and to answers 2 questions

  1. What do you know already about the topic?
  2. What problems are you trying to solve?

The managers who engage gain confidence when their knowledge is validated (they read the same research!) and can present to the trainer real life scenario to be used as foundations for the “how to” guidance needed – generating solutions while engaging with critical thinking content.

April 29, 2021

Reading Time: 4 minutes

What is Experiential Leadership (and How it Works) – Education of Performance Managers is best guided by the workplace reality and workplace culture. Creation of case studies that reflect Experience will supports managers in adopting the most effective leadership techniques to channel team’s pride and engagement.

Image: National Gallery of Ireland – Creative Commons Project – “Christ Disputing with the Doctors”
Artist: Master of the Annunciation to the Shepherds, c.1604-1656

Many management strategies are overly reliant on models build upon static personality traits research: from the well-researched OCEAN model and psychometric testing, to 360 reviews and Gallop’s Strength Clifton Strength Online assessment. 

While extremely useful for an individual to embark in the journey of self-awareness and reflection, “a growing body of evidence shows that personality traits aren’t necessarily consistent from one situation to the next” (HBR, “Persuading the Unpersuadable, Magazine March–April 2021, Adam Grant).

What is Experiential Leadership?

Experiential Leadership is an over archiving framework which stems directly from the theory of Experiential Learning.  Experiential Leadership grounds Managers’ learning in the workplace reality and it inspires supervisors to adjust performance management programmes to reflect existing workplace experience as lived by the individual and the organisation. 

How Does Experiential Leadership Work?

Let’s take the example of managing performance by considering emotional labour. Emotional labour is defined by the specific behaviours outlined by the organisation which an employee is required to apply in a specific situation. Instructions like “always greet a client with a smile”, “maintain your calm under stress” are commonly prescribed behaviours. 

Often – the workplace emotional behaviour required is contrary to that which a person actually believes. Consider the scenario of an organisation who provides support to the un-employed.  A worker who is engaging with a client who is plainly sabotaging opportunities to become employed with be required to remain a behaviour which is supportive, open and understanding. If the client was a family member, the clerk might in fact consider necessary to do an intervention of sort and remove the support

Emotional labour cannot be easily quantified or prescribed – apply level 10 of supportive response (!); furthermore, and social attitudes to questions like un-employment change over time and differ between generations. 

The management of teams employed in highly demanding emotional labour roles is best achieved by building performance management on real life experience. The manager education must be based on relevant case studies and real-life examples accessible via the workplace direct experience. Experiential Leadership supports each worker in understanding own position and define the personal effort – the manager is to apply a generic “guideline that prescribes behaviour” and ensure that each member of staff is supported. 

Real Life illustrations are the core of Experiential Leadership: they facilitate every leader to learn by generating the best response according to the specific experience at hand by mirroring a comparable event. The manager is not adapting leadership and communication responses by extrapolating ideas from generic the personality traits of the employees; nor on supposed personal preference of management style.

Experiential Leadership requires the manager and the organisation to reflect before any action is taken and performance standard defined. It is likely that specific scenarios will form over time and these can be used as blue prints. 

Scenarios and case studies that repeat over time are created by the habitual nature of human begins rather than been based on traits or models. When we identify a path, which is efficient and works, we tent to re-adapt that behaviour and it can become a habit. Habits are based on situations and nurture, environment and experience. While traits and psychometric testing is pushing the conversation towards “nature”, experiential leadership is asking to adapt skills and competence to the case at hand with its peculiarity and specificity. 

Foundation of shared value

The role of the People Managers and Leaders is to guarantee that the most valuable organisational assess, its people, are striving to share success with the organisation. 

While not all roles are generating vocational stimulation, it can be generalised that most people share the value of pride in one’s own work.  Managers should adjust their management and communication styles by looking at the workplace through the prism of pride at work as a critical motivator. 

Pride in one’s work can be both Intrinsic as well as extrinsic motivator – to be self-guiding or to be guided by wanting to earn the respect of peers and colleague or professional community at large.

To do a job, any job, at the best of one’s own ability is often critical for all employees. Understanding that “one’s own ability” changes over time and according to situation it crucial. 

Educating Leaders via Experiential Leadership methods is to “allow people to enter various life situations that are otherwise not accessed by them, to experiment with various situations or roles and to explore their reactions to their new situation – Experiential Learning – A best practice Handbook for Educators and Trainers – Colin Beard, John P Wilson.

3 Top Tips to apply Experiential Leadership in Performance Management

    1. Managers are to be attentive of their past experiences which resemble a current situation 
      1. Adopting a Management Journal can support manager to create a case study as well as ensure that fact-based memory is not changed by fallacy of remembering.
      2.  “What worked” and “What did not work” reflections prove useful and straightforward.
    2. When direct personal experience is not available, the manager is to identify a comparable situation or case study. 
      1. Access to senior mentors is crucial. Mentors can be inside the organisation or experience Management educators who are able to share relevant experience.
    3. Manager will share direct experience/learned experience with the team/employee and discuss together how the performance choices and communication used may be suitable and provided the desired results
  • Management of performance is linked to the work at hand and manager and team member together are to identify the best route to providing the highest quality of work that one can achieve at the specific time and place

Where the manager or the organisation are facing an unexpected and new situation – let’s consider the disruption that COVID-19 pandemic has recently generated – it is again via a consultative process of discovery that the Experiential Leadership model will become apparent. This approach will ensure that when a team member has a comparable experience the manager is guided from within to define and support best practice towards performance management. 

8 Categories for Experiential Leadership Training

At Symposium Learning we have identified 8 categories that represent the most common performance circumstances (categories) and experiences in the workplace.

Click here to download the Outline.