Research & Thought Leadership

Preparing leaders for the ‘un-rehearsed moment’

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Individual leader standing

Experience is invaluable for leaders. With experience comes ‘hindsight learning’, a form of educative process brought about by living through a circumstance and learning from it.

For the budding leader, a complex situation can lead to stress and negative consequences due to a lack of experience. There is little opportunity to ‘rehearse’ for scenarios in advance, particularly when it comes to dealing with responsibility, high pressure, and people dynamics.

Two questions arise from this dilemma. Firstly, which experiences provide the necessary ‘hindsight learning’ that forges great leaders, and why? And how can we turn ‘hindsight’ into ‘foresight’ learning?

To explore this, we spoke to Rachel Sceats, Head of Experiential Learning at Hult EF Corporate Education, who has guided hundreds of leaders through immersive leadership simulations. We uncovered the psychological transformations that take place through powerful experiences, and how active training can achieve those transformations.

Who are you? Self-reflection, self-recognition, and feedback.

The first consequence of formative experiences is an increased awareness of the self and those around you. Sceats explains that learning to be a leader is about “increasing your knowledge of yourself and reducing blind spots.”

Rachel Sceats headshot
"It’s about being authentic. Working with different people, everyone is going to need something slightly different from you as the leader. You need to be able to adapt and flex your own style to get the best from others.”

Rachel Sceats, Head of Experiential Learning at Hult EF Corporate Education

By experiencing new challenges while managing a team, leaders thus learn not only how others react to situations and to their leadership choices, but also fundamentally how they themselves as leaders handle adversity.

So, what is the key to unleashing self-awareness as a leader? The level of understanding required to lead others can only be achieved if every situation is taken as a learning exercise. Sceats explains, “being a great leader is about really knowing yourself. And to be able to do that is to be able to get feedback.”

Receiving feedback must be an active process triggered by leaders themselves: “Typically, leaders are busy and might be seen as scary. People don't want to tap them on the shoulder and offer feedback.

This is why advocating a culture that encourages feedback is vital for helping leaders gain awareness and grow.

From ‘hindsight’ to ‘foresight’ learning

Equipped with the fundamentals of experiential learning, leaders can work on bringing these lessons into their career development as early as possible. Rather than looking back on things you ‘wish you learned 10 years ago’, how can you be better prepared for the challenges of leadership before they happen?

A good place to start is immersive training programs. These tap into the same visceral learning in a consequence-free environment. For example, simulations – such as the multi-day immersive leadership programs offered by Hult EF Corporate Education – can have a significant impact: “It’s those same challenges of working with people, having difficult conversations, knowing when you need to step up and step back, but being able to have those experiences in an environment where you are able to get feedback on it,” Sceats explains.

These intentional and mindful experiences build the awareness – and the habit of welcoming feedback – needed for success.

Self-awareness can empower and include your whole team

These skills are not just about personal growth. Many vital practices for business and people require high levels of awareness, such as DEIB. Active, immersive experiences that confront this complex issue – such as the Hult EF ‘Inclusive Leader’ simulation – force leaders to answer questions about themselves, as well as opening their eyes to dealing with diverse teams.

Do they step up? Do they step in? Do they challenge any of what is said? It’s about increasing awareness of how the language that we use, the way that we behave, how the behavior of others can really impact how people feel at work,” says Sceats.

A leader who is willing to ask themselves such open questions is equipped with the tools to give a voice to all those they lead.

While new challenges will always arise for leaders, the power of broadened awareness is a skill that can be learned and applied to any situation. Experiential learning limits your own blind-spots and teaches you to seek the input of outside perspectives, preparing you for the un-rehearsed moments you encounter.

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