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Learning Through Experiencing

 

Last week I mentioned I had attended the ICF Michigan Coaches Conference and talked about how I went to a breakout session focused on Coaching and Improv. If you missed it, here is the link: Coaching and Improv.

Also at the ICF Michigan’s conference, I had the pleasure to learn from Kay Peterson of The Institute of Experiential Learning (www.experientiallearninginstitute.org). Kay was the keynote speaker at the conference and gave a very insightful presentation on learning styles, learning cycles, and how you can benefit by knowing all of this. It made complete sense to me to push self-awareness further and identify your strengths and blind spots when it comes to learning.

There are many reasons why this subject captivated my attention, the first being that I am life-long learner. In fact, if I won the lottery (come one PowerBall) I would be a professional student. I would spend my days learning about new things then testing them out to see what comes out of it, and then tweaking as I gained more knowledge based on the experience.

Me, I am an experiential learner through and through. It is not enough to read, to share and to understand theory. You need to put the theory into action and see what comes out of it. I have been doing this through my whole life, mostly because I have a need to start doing and to feel what it is like doing it. My friend anxiety helps with that, doing this quiets the crazy thoughts in my head.

My journey into coaching and development was one of pure experiential learning. It started with my coaching training through Coach U, an accredited coach school by the International Coach Federation. I chose to do the face to face modules instead of the virtual classes because I needed to experience coaching first hand, and not just learn the theory. My time spent through the Coach U program threw me in head first into coaching. Every concept we learned was followed by a coaching session in which we needed to apply what we had just learned. Listening section? Let’s do a coaching session in which you can’t talk, just listen… Questioning section? Let’s do a coaching session in which you can’t ask why questions, only what questions… It was amazing how much faster you learned the concepts once you started doing.

When I decided to become a certified trainer, I went for an intensive week-long certification process on how to conduct trainings for a specific partner organization of mine. It was very informative, I took copious note, had a great time and was ready to deliver. Then I was sent on my first assignment and everything went out the window. Sure, I had the foundation to be successful, but it was not until I had to experience the real-life scenario that things started to click in. You gave to apply in order to truly get the whole picture.

Think about it as riding a bike. You can spend a lifetime learning theoretically how to ride a bike. You can read books on the history of bike riding, read autobiographies of the best bike riders in the world, you can watch instructional videos, listen to podcasts, the works. Guess what? Once you get on that bike you will still need to figure out how to ride it. Sure, the foundation you have built has certainly better prepared you for this moment, however, until you experience it for yourself you will never truly master bike riding.

Leadership is much the same. I can tell you from experience. I have always been obsessed with leadership and as I went through my career I made a point to read as much as I could, attend tons of seminars and learn from my mentors. It gave me a great foundation but nothing could have prepared me for the first time I had to let somebody go. Nothing could have prepared me for the first performance improvement conversation I had. Nothing could have prepared me to have a dress code conversation (still not prepared, BTW). The only way I learned was through doing. Through experiencing. By falling on my face and learning from it.

 So, am I telling you to just experience? No, of course not. As Kay Peterson suggests there is a learning cycle and experiencing is just a piece of the puzzle, albeit a critical one. What I am saying is that learning is not enough, you must do. So go out and do it already. 

Andre Mello is a Business Coach and has experienced writing this blog for almost a year now. One of these days he will get the hang of it. He has been in leadership and coaching for over 11 years. To connect with Andre please visit www.wysecoaching.com

 
Andre Mello