Redefining the role of the leader in the reskilling era

To enable continuous learning, leaders will need to think and act differently.

Continuous learning in the workplace must become the new norm if individuals and organizations want to stay ahead. This places more demand than ever on leaders to take on a new role they might initially find unfamiliar—that of learning facilitator-in-chief.

Since 2016, the Consortium for Advancing Adult Learning & Development (CAALD) has sought not only to illuminate the big-picture challenges that the reskilling era poses but also to explore the implications for individual leaders. CAALD—a group of learning authorities whose members include researchers, corporate and not-for-profit leaders, and McKinsey experts—recently held its fourth annual meeting in Norwalk, Connecticut.

At one of the meeting’s sessions, four CAALD members—Lynda Gratton, professor of management practice at the London Business School; David Rock, director of the NeuroLeadership Institute; Joe Voelker, chief human-resources officer at Stanley Black & Decker; and Tim Welsh, vice chairman of consumer and business banking at US Bank—discussed the mind-sets and behaviors that leaders must learn (and unlearn) in order to meet the needs of their people and their organizations in the age of reskilling.

It’s harder to learn new things as an adult; the pain of making mistakes doesn’t roll off as quickly as it might have when we were younger. So how can leaders foster an environment of psychological safety where employees are supported but still productively challenged? The members discussing this problem concluded that part of the solution may be for leaders to dial up their levels of empathy and humility and focus more on enabling the best in their people, rather than commanding it from them. What follows are edited excerpts of their reflections, which emerged from a conversation moderated by Ashley Williams, CEO and chief learning officer of executive education at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.

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