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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

3 Steps to Creating a Positive Learning Environment


In today’s 24/7 world, executives and managers simply don’t have a great deal of time to get away from the office, so we are challenged to work smarter, faster and better. We must help clients master an important concept in a few hours or a day, hit the ground running with immediate real world results and set the stage for building connections down the road. We know if we trigger fear in people about being judged or “found out,” we immediately put them on high alert, which can totally disrupt the assessment, development and training process. Simply put, we know people learn best when they feel encouraged and supported. It is crucial to create a positive learning environment to increase the impact of leadership development training. Here are three ways to create an environment to minimize anxiety and maximize learning.

1. Send the correct message
The messages that trigger brain responses that enhance readiness for learning include acknowledgment of past successes and expectation of even better things to come. The correct message about why an executive is being assessed for leadership performance can set the stage for and directly impact assessment and development outcomes.

2. Highlight the link between leadership effectiveness and organizational effectiveness
Organizations engage potential leaders in leadership development because they believe the organizations will be better as a result. Reinforcing a leader’s importance to the organization, and making clear the link between individual and organizational effectiveness, will set the stage for impactful learning.

3. Use productive language
The language used in some assessment tools and by some training experts may make people feel like they are being labeled or judged. In particular, certain clinical language may leave people feeling like they are getting a diagnosis, and may imply that they are either healthy or sick. This, of course, significantly decreases receptivity and the effectiveness of training and development. For these reasons, it’s important to be non-judgmental and present an unbiased interpretation, particularly in the delivery of an assessment. We can do this by understanding our own bias, avoiding judgmental language, and helping our clients really understand what their “results” mean for their upside potential on a head and heart level.


It’s easy to forget how much anxiety leadership development can provoke. Anxiety and fear result in a chemical reaction in the brain that triggers fight or flight. This is perfect when you are in danger but is far from optimal for learning. Instead of prompting a person to feel defensive or fearful of being exposed, we must focus on setting the stage to unlock a person’s full potential. 

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