When Experiential Learning Goes Wrong – And How to Make It Right

Experiential learning is an important tool that can help you become a better leader. But, if it’s not done correctly it may actually lead you astray. Tennis coach and author Timothy Gallwey touches on this topic in his popular book, The Inner Game of Work. In it, Gallwey compares excelling in sports to excelling at work and, specifically, how the role of the coach can support or detract from high performance in both environments.

Here’s why he says experiential learning may get off track – and what to do to turn it around:

Problem #1: We get in our own way.

As a tennis coach, Gallwey noticed his athletes making observations about their performance and adjusting their game based on those observations. However, often the athletes didn’t see themselves clearly. As an individual player, it was difficult for the athletes to correctly diagnose their issue. Gallwey explains that the athlete has a perception, responds to it, and then expects results.

It can be the same for you and your people. Setbacks can give you an image of yourself and your leadership style that you respond to. Yet, there’s no way to know if that image is true. That’s why relying solely on self-observation as experiential learning can lead you in the wrong direction.

A better way: During the Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, we’ll likely see coaches helping athletes correct their performances by pinpointing their shortcomings and giving them critical improvements. Along those same lines, a business coach or objective advisor may be able to recognize something you can’t see within yourself and give you clearer insight. (Side note: If you want to channel your excitement for the Olympics into improved leadership skills, you should check out our Gold Medal Experience.)

Problem #2: We don’t trust in ourselves.

Gallwey explains that a coach’s action can either support a student’s self-trust or undermine it. Supporting the student and his belief in himself is key. In sports, this may play out when a coach asks the athlete what he’s doing wrong and they analyze it together, as opposed to the coach dictating instructions to the player.

Blindly enacting the advice of a business mentor, without making sure the input is true for you and your situation can backfire. You know your work environment, team, CEO, and your own goals and objectives, so after receiving feedback, you should be the ultimate authority.

A better way: Listen to the advice of others, but take an active participation in your self-improvement. In our experiences, we never come up with conclusions or takeaways for you. Instead, our facilitators guide you so you can make accurate judgments that are true for you. Even though you can benefit from outside assistance, you are the ultimate expert and decision maker.

Problem #3: We don’t enjoy the process.

When athletes get in the zone and lose consciousness of themselves is the time when coaches see the most improvement occur. Gallwey says it’s similar to childhood play and the rapid growth that happens during that time. Kids are fully engaged in playing and having fun, so they don’t even realize they’re developing new skills at the same time.

That’s why you may find that leadership courses and seminars in classrooms may not be as effective as an immersive leadership experience. When you’re truly absorbed in learning, you’re growing, engaged, and having fun at the same time.

A better way: Students should be active participants enjoying their growth experience. This is the reason we conduct experiences in meaningful locations instead of in a classroom setting. You step out of your comfort zone to transform as a person and leader through meaningful participation.

 

Taking the time to grow and change as a leader is an important and a worthy goal, so use these tips to find the best fit for you and as Gallwey puts it to find the “better way to change.”

 

Come back for our next discussion from our favorite leadership books: how using techniques from The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath can help you make greater impact as a learning professional and leader.

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