Experiential learning is the only way to transform your team because Leadership isn’t about having more knowledge. Your leaders need to practice. They need to be able to practice tough conversations and take on new actions required to strengthen their leadership capability.
Leadership today is about emotional intelligence and being present. Strong leaders connect to what they think and feel in the moment and take the appropriate action. This is critical especially when you are under pressure and facing uncertainty. As a result, experiential learning is not about learning a new skill. It’s about learning how to connect to your mind (your gut, your emotions, and your thoughts) and instantaneously pull on yours and others’ resources and act (your body) appropriately at the moment. Leadership today is about creating a stronger belief system and calmly use it, as the complexity of the world increases.
As today’s generation faces more stress and anxiety than any generation before, it is essential that today’s leaders develop a mind-body connection. In this mind-body connection, they can take on a difficult action in the face of fear, pressure, stress, and inexperience. New leaders require the ability to transform their beliefs around their ability to create new possibilities when the cards are stacked against them.
Definition of Learning In Leadership Development
Before we discuss why experiential learning is so powerful, we must define Learning. “Learning” is the ability to take on an action that before the learning, you were NOT able to take on.
“the last true frontier for humanity is the exploration of the mind-body connection.”Danielle Lucido, Linkage Inc.
True leadership development, is not about “knowing” something new, but to act on that knowledge especially when you are in the heat of the battle.
So, this means learning leadership not only an intellectual pursuit, the pursuit of more knowledge. Leadership is an embodiment. An embodiment is an ability, courage, and the belief system, that allows someone to take action at the moment. To embody is to create an enhanced mindset with a belief system and appropriateness of action that separates the pressure from the task at hand.
What Successful Experiential Learning Does
Successful Experiential Learning transforms teams, not just leaders. It derives its success through transforming a leader’s ability to respond appropriately to situations that require a more robust, inclusive, and reflective mindset. That mindset involves not just the leader, but the entire team, and impacts the teams success. Experiential learning is not about gaining more information, because in today’s world the creation of information is infinitesimal.
So, as a company that focuses on building critical skills in leadership and team building, we focus on experiential learning, because more information does nothing to strengthen a leader in today’s uncertain and volatile world. It is only through dealing with experiences where there is a lack of information that a leader builds a body that can act in the face of conflict, opposition, and lack of information.
Since the goal of experiential learning is to have individuals embody a new way of thinking, seeing, believing, and acting in the face of uncertainty, successful Experiential Learning systems must invoke the mind-body connection through the following elements:
Reflect on key learning points.
Be challenged in a new way of thinking, seeing, believing.
Practice new actions that support that new learning point.
Benefits of Experiential Learning
Experiential learning transforms teams because of these benefits:
1. Builds A Culture of Psychological Safety:
Experiential Learning requires a safe space so that self-discovery can take place. In psychologically safe environments, everyone feels accepted and respected and feels like they can express themselves without fear of negative consequences.
In Lingham’s research (3) he tested a measuring instrument that showed:
“The more the teams supported the experiential learning cycle through norms that focused their conversation on interpersonal diverging (concrete experience and reflective observation) and task-oriented converging (abstract conceptualization and active experimentation),
- the better they performed,
- the more satisfied they were with their membership on the team,
- and the more they felt psychologically safe to take risks on the team.”
2. Helps Embrace Uncertainty
Today’s generation was schooled in getting the right answer. Most candidates were hired because they said the “right” things. Unfortunately, in today’s unpredictable world, there is rarely a right answer. In order to embrace uncertainty, the learning experience must have multiple experiences where individuals learn how to navigate through uncertainty.
The results of one study(4) shows
“That the perception of risk and uncertainty changes during the experiential learning process and that it is possible to develop competences related to risk-taking and coping with uncertainty through education, which also underlines the transformative nature of entrepreneurship education.”
Most individuals facing uncertainty move on to something that is certain. Most individuals’ automatic response to uncertainty is to stop, ignore, or move on to something that is certain. Unfortunately, in today’s world, uncertainty is where all the opportunity is in life. Experiential Learning is essential to learn how to gracefully face uncertainty head-on, and learn to embrace uncertainty as a friend.
3. Teaches a Level of Collaboration Required to Succeed
Today’s problems are filled with complexity greater than what can be solved by one person. Experiential Learning requires that participants are confronted with how they think they are collaborative, yet many times they are just poor or strong negotiators. A successful learning experience must have participants confront how difficult it is for most people to ask for help, and the experience must demonstrate to them how much they suffer by thinking for a second that they can do life and business alone.
Once experiential learning project in Singapore (5) suggested an improvement in problem-solving skills compared to the group that did not use experiential learning.
4. Help Strengthen Emotional Intelligence
In experiential learning, participants are emotionally immersed in the experience. The emotional experience engages participants to a point that the learning and experiencing changes the participants mindset. When the experience is constructed appropriately, it enhances a learner’s ability to empathize, far into the future.
Also, emotions such as fear, confusion, and distrust cause many people to stall. It is through experiential learning that participants are encouraged to identify and celebrate their emotions. When they celebrate their emotions now, in the future the experience of powerful emotions is now identified as the place to pivot, to express, to ask, and to act.
5. Challenges Values & Belief Systems
The reason why experiential learning is so powerful is that it challenges the participants to see how their personal belief systems limit their results. Only when an experience has the participant bump up against his or her own beliefs, challenge those beliefs, and demonstrate the insanity of those beliefs, can change occur.
At the core of true action is acknowledging what people value and care about, and using it as a trigger to act. The value of experiential learning is that values and cares are discussed and “experimented” with, so that they can be a fulcrum for future action. By working within a space that has been made safe for self-exploration, you can reassess your values as a leader or assess how well you have been living by your values.
6. Encourages Growth Outside Your Comfort Zone
As human beings we become set into habitual behaviors. We don’t realize that much of the reason we don’t take risk, is that we think that the discomfort would not be worth the reward. Without an attack on those habits, and the exposure of how those habits limit one’s results, there can be no learning, nor any chance of a different action.
Only when a participant gets the opportunity to act outside of his or her “comfort zone,” will a new action exist. The most important actions on a team are the actions of doing whatever is necessary to stay accountable to the vision, mission, and strategic objectives. The actions we are looking for are radical collaboration, risk taking, creativity, holding another accountable, having fierce conversations, and going above and beyond what each participant thought was possible for him or herself.
7. Encourages Self-Expression
What holds most people back from action is a fear of self-expression; expressing their dreams, their vision, their desires, their cries for help. Successful experiential learning encourages individuals to utilize the muscle of self-expression, because it is through self-expression that innovation occurs, requests for help occur, and individuals challenge the status quo.
8. Allows for Reflection & Builds Commitment
An individual must reflect on what he has learned in order for the learning to enter into the body. It is only through sharing one’s new belief system and committing collectively to new behaviors with one’s colleagues that change actually happens.
9. Observe & Be Open to New Perspectives
Participants gain the ability to see relationships in complex systems and practice the ability to “zoom out” and see the landscape from “50,000 feet” above (A critical leadership skill).
10. Strengthens Team and Employee Engagement
Experiential learning combines the process of personal development with team goals. This combination aligns high levels of engagement to help become a high-performance team
The old adage sums up experiential learning perfectly:
I hear and I forget
I see and I remember
I do and I understand
- Experiential Learning Theory of David Kolb. verywellmind.com. By Kendra Cherry. Updated January 10, 2019.
- Kayes, A. B., Kayes, D. C., & Kolb, D. A. (2005). Experiential learning in teams. Simulation & Gaming, (3), 330. Retrieved from http://libproxy.chapman.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid&db=edsgea&AN=edsgcl.139449553&site=eds-live
- Lingham, T. (2004). Developing a measure of conversational learning spaces in teams. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio
- Arpiainen, R.-L., & Kurczewska, A. (2017). Learning Risk-Taking and Coping with Uncertainty through Experiential, Team-Based Entrepreneurship Education. Industry and Higher Education, 31(3), 143–155. Retrieved from http://libproxy.chapman.edu/login?url=http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=ip,uid&db=eric&AN=EJ1141759&site=eds-live
- Seow, P.-S., Pan, G., & Koh, G. (2019). Examining an experiential learning approach to prepare students for the volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) work environment. The International Journal of Management Education, 17, 62–76. 10.1016/j.ijme.2018.12.001