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A Foraging Model for Leading and Learning

By Peter Lodemore

Shouldn't we be encouraging more initiative, opportunism, self-direction and self-reliance? So why do we keep wheeling-out formal training courses and paying people to attend them? Shouldn't we be encouraging a more resourceful, foraging approach, especially when it comes to leadership development?

Here’s an example.

My kitchen light went on the blink and took longer and longer to come on. So long in fact that the last time I went to make tea it still hadn’t come on by the time I finished and went to switch it off. I called a ‘handy’ friend who suggested it might be the starter motor not the fluorescent tube. I purchased a starter motor for £1 in my local shop, watched a 1m 20 second tutorial on installing a starter motor on YouTube and hey presto!

If I worked for an organisation and got stuck on something, I have the feeling I’d wait 3 months to go on a course about it, be paid to attend it, and patiently wait for the 10 minute bit relevant to me.

Have courses had their day? Especially when it comes to things like leadership development. I'm increasingly convinced that the method is the message. I wonder if the course-as-learning-vehicle undermines our efforts at encouraging people to take initiative and be more self-directed? I think we should be aiming for a Ray Mears not a Jay Rayner model in other words.

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Jay Rayner (above) is the restaurant critic for the Observer. He’s paid to go to restaurants, scoff their food and write about the experience. I imagine the main purpose of a Jay Rayner is to help you decide if you want to go to the same place to scoff the food too. He seems happy to be passive, to let others do the hard work, and to be waited on. I am slightly envious he gets paid to scoff food.

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Ray Mears (above) is a survival expert. He forages for food while on treks in wild places. He makes cool fires as well as his own bowls and eating utensils, and doesn't wait around to get served. I admire how resourceful Ray is and how committed he is in getting from A to B. I don’t think I’d admire Ray so much if he gave up his foraging and walked miles out of his way to wait patiently in a restaurant or in the queue outside a chip shop. Ray doesn’t waste time like that. His active foraging keeps him agile and destination-focused. He seems more like an adult than Jay in these respects.

When it comes to management and leadership are we creating Jay Rayners or Ray Mears’? Shouldn’t we expect people to be more committed to their destinations and forage for what they need en route? There’s plenty of stuff out there if people are motivated to find it.

If someone is paid to manage a team and hasn’t attempted to deal with a difficult team member despite that being their job, for example, why collude with them? Most people know what they need to do they just aren’t doing it. Setting up an expensive performance management course and then rewarding people for attending it is the wrong message and model, I think - way too Jay not enough Ray.

Creating on-time resources, or opportunities to help people harvest learning or share it, once they've committed to what they're already being paid to do, is far more effective, and there’s lots more traction for learning once we’ve already had a go and got that experience.

Support commitment not inaction, resources not courses, foragers not feasters.

Peter Lodemore is a leadership consultant, coach, speaker, fire-starter, and can make tea in the dark. His new programme Breakthrough Leadership is designed for ambitious, self directed foragers.