Every year, the Dutch government's leadership agency organises a 'leadership learning journey' for around thirty high-potential civil servants. These are the future top-level directors and managers of the government. Since 2003, Kessels & Smit has been organising one of these meetings: the Learning Center.
The aim of this learning intervention is to help managers discover their strengths and talents and how they can use them effectively. But also to explore pitfalls and stumbling blocks: where do these patterns come from? And how can the candidates tackle them effectively?
We work with a Development Center - approach [link]. This means that participants are given the opportunity to work very intensively on the basis of their own cases. They reflect on their personal leadership style and its impact on others and develop new approaches. A Learning Center is short and powerful: in 1.5 days, three core situations - studios - are covered.
In two practice studios candidates work intensively with skills that are important for their future top management position. The practice situations are designed and executed in collaboration with top civil servants and the leadership agency. The participants submit actual cases from their own practice. They play them out with an actor or a guest from their own work situation - someone who is actually involved in real-life. This makes it realistic and powerful.
Each participant receives personal guidance and coaching in the form of on-the-spot feedback, tips and practical development suggestions, aimed at strengthening impact and self-insight. The role play is stopped regularly in order to investigate what happened, to do a do-over or to experiment with a different approach.
The third studio is dedicated to reflection. Participants work on questions such as: what personal beliefs guide my behaviour? What strenghts characterize me and how do I use these to influence my environment? How do I connect personally to political-social issues? Here, too, people receive intensive guidance: a coach helps them to mirror and unravel.
The Learning Center ends with a panel discussion between the coaches in which, in the presence of the participant, the observations of the various studios are brought together into an intersubjective image. This exchange gives the participant an overview of personal qualities, learning questions and suggestions on how to grow. The panel discussion concludes with a theme or common thread which provides focus.
The Learning Center is intensive and works as an accelerator. Participants are often positively surprised about themselves and the speed with which they can deepen their self-knowledge and broaden their skills repertoire. The experience provides a good breeding ground for the development of participants leadership and its effects are often felt for years to come.