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Winning in L&D
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Playing to win: Working on our L&D inner game 

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If L&D want to play to win in 2022, we need to take a leaf out of the sports champions' books and work on developing our inner game plan.

25th Jan 2022
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A clear sense of self and purpose, working hard and willingness to continue to learn, regardless of outcome, are just some of the mental disciplines that successful athletes dig into. And that’s before they even hit the court, the track, or the gym.

“You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”   – Michael Jordan

“For me, I don’t think about size – I focus more on being powerful and confident.” – Simone Biles

“The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” – Bobby Knight

“I always learn something from every race.”- Sir Mo Farah

Tennis coach Timothy Gallwey talked about this as the inner game. He wrote about the need to quiet the ego voice (that one that beefs up our wins and amplifies our failure). Instead, he talked about trusting base instinct, the habits built through practice and exploring experiences in non-judgemental ways. Shifting the balance is the way that athletes play the inner game that leads to success.

Playing to win in L&D

Very few of us in L&D are competing for that gold medal. But we still need to play to win. To win the respect of business allies, to unlock the potential of individuals, to know that our work has left individuals, teams, and organisations more equipped and ready for the changing world of work. Bold action that delivers impact takes grit, determination, and hard work.

The trouble is we’re often happier being armchair fans than players

At the beginning of 2022, we need this more than ever. But we are coming out of tough times of uncertainty, and to be honest, exhaustion. Ever the champion of collective wisdom, I joined with Michelle Ockers and Shannon Tipton to dig deeper into that wisdom. We interviewed 34 global learning professionals  to explore how they can emerge stronger from disruption.

Whilst the circumstances that we found ourselves in had been unprecedented, the advice that emerged was familiar - that disruption has provided an opportunity for learning leaders to align, to listen, to reinvent and redesign, to freshly connect at the point of need, to adapt and more. No surprises there then. The trouble is we’re often happier being armchair fans than players. 

As a profession, we debate new strategies and models of learning, can quote the latest in learning science and behavioural economics and point out why others are great or not so great. What struck me from the conversations that the Emerging Stronger team had back in 2020 was that those who had already embraced these principles in their professional practice had been much better equipped to pivot during disruption. They hardly missed a beat when the world changed.

When analysing the podcast interviews, what stood out for me was the attitude of the practitioners, not just their practice. They faced similar challenges and organisational complexities reported by others before the pandemic, but they approached them differently. They were in the habit of thinking differently. They were all digging into their inner game!

Mapping our inner game plan

We know that our brain is super smart in developing patterns and pathways. Our natural thinking habits, built up over time through repetition and reinforcement, are brilliant in helping us deal rapidly with routine and avoid cognitive overload. 

The thinking habits at different ends of the spectrum will serve us best at different times, and fixed habits will take effort to shift when they no longer benefit us

Our established thinking habits are not right or wrong, and many have served us well. Research has also shown how our habits shape our identity and vice versa. They become that inner voice that guides our behaviour. Occasionally those same thinking habits might also work against us and prevent us from seeing new opportunities as they arise. When that happens, it’s time to think again!

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The image here presents a simple map of potential thinking habits that emerged from the podcast series. It shines a light on the established patterns that might influence our professional decisions. 

Consider the last few major decisions that you made as a learning leader. Can you pinpoint which thinking habits shaped your response? 

  • How did your perception of your own value influence the way that you responded to your last request for training?

  • How did your view of your own role influence the first actions that you took to that request?

  • We all had to change rapidly during covid, to take risks or to innovate. But was your response driven by what had been successful in the past or a willingness to try something new?

The map is not the territory

This offer of a map of professional thinking habits is just that, an offer and an incomplete one at that. There are clearly complex systems to navigate when supporting organisational learning, particularly during times of disruption, and this simple map does not explain that complexity. 

Consider the last few major decisions that you made as a learning leader. Can you pinpoint which thinking habits shaped your response? 

However, as individual learning leaders, we are not outside of the system; we are part of it and our thinking habits may constrain or liberate our contribution to our organisation’s success. 

The thinking habits at different ends of the spectrum will serve us best at different times, and fixed habits will take effort to shift when they no longer benefit us.

If L&D want to play to win in 2022, let’s take a leaf out of Micheal, Simone, Bobby and Mo’s book and work on developing our inner game plan! 

Join Laura, Michelle and Shannon, the Emerging Stronger team, and global colleagues to dig deeper at our webinar ‘Playing to Win in 2022: Your inner game of L&D.’ 

Interested in this topic? Read How to reboot your learning strategy.

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