Learning leadership: simulation and reality

Leadership is not a process: it’s an art. I don’t mean that it doesn’t have structure, but rather that there is a highly subjective and qualitative dimension to it. It’s contextual and requires discretion and decision making in terms of style and the ability to flex and respond to feedback. It’s as expressive as dance or poetry, but often dealt within quasi scientific terms.

I was reflecting on this over coffee with Richard this morning as we were discussing the film shoot yesterday. We were thinking about how different things are when you are directing a project. One of the funny things about film shoots is that you have fifteen people in a room but you can tell everyone what to do. You can direct the characters in minute detail: ‘be more aggressive’ or ‘look concerned’. To make a convincing piece of film, you have to make the implicit explicit. You can’t rely on chance to tell the story you want to tell. You don’t have to debate or persuade people because you are explicitly in charge!

That’s one form of power and leadership i guess, but a very specialist one and only suited to that situation. Leadership, in general, is far more nuanced than that.

The difference between simulation and reality is the same as the difference between the artificial world of the film set and the normal office. They are different, but reflection can shed some light on real world problems and challenges. If everyone thought like me, there would be no problem getting things done. True, but everything would be done the way that i do things and, whilst it would avoid arguments, it would be all the weaker for the lack of different opinions and challenges. My way is rarely the best way. It’s the difference that helps us form the best path and understanding how that difference is expressed, understanding how the challenge feels and working out how to tease out the commonality from the conflict is the learning experience.

Simulations can allow us to experience some of this, in an abstract manner, but we need to focus the spotlight on the underlying thought processes. Where are we learning in it all? the worst type of leadership training experiences are the ones that are run like the film shoot: where there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way of doing things and where we expect people to exhibit the command and control processes to deliver the right one. The end results is not really as important as the introspection on how we got there. In other words it’s not the activity of simulation that counts, it’s how we think about what we did.

Similarly, this reflective process carries into the real world and can be reinforced and supported in the social spaces around learning. How do we use forums and other semi formal spaces to reflect and challenge? Again, these spaces are not best used to drive groups towards some common understanding of what is right or wrong, but rather to provide the space and facilitation to explore our thought processes to get there.

You can learn leadership, but only through experience. It’s more than process, more than science, more than just art. Simulation spaces can provide space for rehearsal but, like making a film, the performance is more than just being told what to do. It needs a little magic.

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About julianstodd

A learning and development professional specialising in e-learning and learning technology.
This entry was posted in Challenge, Community of Practice, Experience, Formal Spaces, Informal Spaces, Knowledge, Leadership, Learning, Sensation, Skills and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Learning leadership: simulation and reality

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