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Support your leaders with peer learning

Practical solutions for developing leaders

Support your leaders with peer learning

How can you help your leaders develop?

Do leaders know everything and have the answer for every question? Of course not. Yet sometimes they feel under pressure to be able to make the correct decision every time, to implement decisions in the right way and not make any mistakes at all. That is not realistic. So how do we help leaders to get it right all – or almost all – of the time? Peer learning is a powerful tool for developing leaders. It’s also not that difficult to run in your organization. 

CLS leadership programs emphasise applied learning. Leaders examine specific models in detail, then work through how to apply them in their daily role. We know that has a positive impact, enabling leaders to make better decisions and to act more effectively with greater confidence. For L&D leaders, the next question is, how can that continue once the leadership program is finished? Peer learning is a fairly straightforward approach which we know from experience, works. How you do it will depend on your culture; what works for one company does not always work for another.

Peer learning for leaders

Enabling leaders to learn from each other is a powerful activity. There are many benefits for everyone:

The small group is a vehicle to enhance valuable leadership skills, including listening, being vulnerable, getting comfortable with others’ perspectives and emotions, asking insightful questions, giving and getting direct feedback, and helping people find their own solutions.

We routinely include peer coaching, group coaching, or action learning in all of our leadership programs. Feedback from both leaders and companies indicate that this is a powerful tool which can be used to increase impact long after a leadership program has finished. We have specific programs which can be used to develop peer working within functions and across a whole company, in specific countries or across multinational sites. Whether you want to develop leaders at first line, mid level, senior level or emerging talent, peer learning is a great way to make a tangible difference. 

Actions for L&D Leaders

What can you do as an L&D professional, now, today, to support your leaders and help them develop a collaborative, supportive style of peer working?

If you already have peer coaching or learning groups in place, one of the best things you can do is to ask how they are going. What else do they need to be fully effective? Do they need a “refresh” or some practical support to work as well as they can? You might want to ask questions around any barriers that people experience, whether practical or psychological. This level of support internally will encourage existing peer learning networks and demonstrate to leaders, that their continuing development is important to the organization.

What can you do as an L&D professional, now, today, to support your leaders and help them develop a collaborative, supportive style of peer working?

If you already have peer coaching or learning groups in place, one of the best things you can do is to ask how they are going. What else do they need to be fully effective? Do they need a “refresh” or some practical support to work as well as they can? You might want to ask questions around any barriers that people experience, whether practical or psychological. This level of support internally will encourage existing peer learning networks and demonstrate to leaders, that their continuing development is important to the organization.

What do you have already?

Maybe  your existing peer groups need a refresh, or  maybe you don’t have peer learning groups at the moment. One highly practical thing you can do now is to use a tool like Boost Groups. The latest book from Tim Kemp, gives guidance on how to boost support, performance and collaboration, with Boost Groups. Tim is an international leadership specialist and director of CLS’ leadership development programs for UNICEF. Tim uses the name “Boost Groups” because, “small groups of committed learners can have a significant impact on resolving issues they are most concerned about, while building their morale and self-confidence.” When you want leaders who behave consistently, with confidence, in ways that their peers can support, this is a useful approach to take.  

Although setting up peer learning from scratch can seem quite challenging, it’s actually OK for L&D to pilot an approach by handing over some tools and asking leaders to try them out. You can easily use Boost Groups with first line or mid-level leaders or ask senior leaders to trial action learning sets. Any mistakes they make are part of the learning that feeds back into leadership development and will help you make good decisions on what support leaders need from you.

Empowering leaders - at all levels

Peer coaching is very much about empowering your leaders to take care of learning for themselves. The approach is collaborative, strengthens relationships, and can help to embed organizational values or behaviours. When it’s done well, it creates a safe space for leaders to bring their issues to the table. It improves communication and helps people feel that they can ask for, and receive, help when they need it.

For any L&D professional who wants to try out peer learning to support leaders, the Boost Groups book is an ideal place to start. Tim Kemp explains the how, why and provides templates, activities and tasks. If you have a few leaders who are keen to keep learning and interested in working together, then buying a few copies to give them could be a simple way of getting them started. If you then have a conversation around what is and isn’t working, then you are well on the way to developing a more comprehensive approach to continuing leadership.

It's good that we have peer groups to work this through. It gives us good support in applying our learning.Informal peer discussions mean I am able to bounce off ideas, discuss tricky issues and get a sounding board for key management issues.

Next steps

Can we help?

If you think that peer learning has the potential to help your leaders develop,it is worth looking at the potential outcomes you would like to see. It can be a list that includes everything from improving cross-functional relationships, to improved feedback skills, more confident leaders and ways to engage with your talent pool.   

When you know what you want your company to get out of peer learning, you are welcome to talk it through with us. We have depth and breadth of experience when it comes to helping organizations set up peer coaching, mentoring and learning networks.  Do get in touch when you are ready. 

Tim Kemp is a CLS senior director of Leadership Development, working with some of our largest clients. As well as being a published author, he is a Leadership Fellow of St George’s House Windsor, and a Canadian based in the UK, working globally. Boost Groups is Tim’s latest publication and is highly practical. This article on peer coaching from HBR is useful reading too. 

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