January 31


“Learning in the Flow of Work” for Leaders

By Sara Canaday

January 31, 2024

business leaders, career success, leadership, leadership behaviors, leadership skills

In the ever-changing world of leadership, there’s one trend that’s weaving its way into our daily hustle: learning in the flow of work. But as some trends come and go, I believe this one is here to stay. In fact, this concept has the potential to become a driving force for leaders to evolve and expand their impact in the year ahead—and beyond.

So what is it exactly?

Traditional learning is often compartmentalized and separated from what’s happening in the real world of work. But in today’s dynamic business environment, we need a learning approach that’s more flexible and closely connected to our day-to-day challenges. Enter the idea of learning in the flow of work. It’s not just about acquiring new skills; it’s about transforming how we absorb, process, and use knowledge in the heat of our daily tasks.

Instead of learning and then applying lessons as separate, linear components, those two become meshed into one. You or your team identify needs, immediately seek knowledge or solutions to meet those needs, and put those to work instantly. No delays or lag time.

For instance, imagine a scenario where challenges and learning opportunities coexist. You’re leading a team through a complex project, encountering unforeseen obstacles. Instead of putting things on hold so you can learn a new skill or research how others may have overcome these barriers, you integrate learning into your problem-solving process.

Perhaps you seek real-time insights from a microlearning site, digital guides, or an expert’s curated chatbot. No matter where you are, if you can access the internet, you can acquire relevant, timely knowledge that could transform your team’s productivity or output in measurable ways.

Here’s another example. You’re an experienced project manager in a software development company, and you are well-versed in leading domestic projects. But you’ve recently been tasked with managing your first global project—one that involves team members from different countries with varying cultural backgrounds and communication preferences. Hitting pause while you study the complexities of that situation isn’t an option. You’ve got to learn in the flow of work.

You identify a colleague who has extensive experience in successfully managing global projects. You approach her to become your peer coach and ask her to join your team’s Zoom meetings as an observer. She pays close attention to your interactions, your communication style, and how you handle the challenges of a diverse, distributed team. Right after each Zoom meeting, your peer coach provides you with immediate feedback. This might include insights on how you navigated certain issues, as well as suggestions for improving engagement with team members from various cultural backgrounds.

The key here is tapping into whatever resources are readily available to you in real time—digital and human. Be deliberate about seeking them out. Then use them strategically to help you learn, reflect, and make adjustments in the moment to enhance your team’s performance.

What’s the main takeaway for you as a leader?

Learning in the flow of work is a game-changing approach that can equip you to be more responsive and adaptable. It can enable you to lead by example, showing your team how to learn, unlearn, and relearn in the face of new challenges. It’s about being a navigator in an ocean of constant change, because what was relevant yesterday may be obsolete by tomorrow.

Today’s business pace demands that leaders and their teams pick up new competencies quickly and efficiently. So as we step into this new year, I want to challenge you to embrace learning in the flow of work. Integrate this approach into your leadership style. Encourage your team members to adopt this mindset. And when you do, I’m confident you’ll experience a transformation in the way you grow, innovate, and lead.

Until Next Time,

Sara Canaday

About the author

Sara began her journey working full-time while she earned an MBA. As she climbed the ladder of corporate America, she repeatedly observed a surprising phenomenon: the most successful people weren’t necessarily the ones with the highest IQ or best job skills. She recognized instead that career advancement was much more closely linked with how people applied their knowledge and talents — their capacity to collaborate, communicate, and influence others.

Today, Sara is happily fulfilling that commitment as a keynote speaker, author, and executive coach. These venues have given her the opportunity to mentor and support thousands of people in diverse situations, inspiring many of them to move from insight to action with dramatic career results.

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