What is a Modern Learning Leader?

There are two main components to think about, “modern learning” and “leader”.

Being a super leader

You could argue there’s a crossover subset here, of “modern leader”, though I think by tackling “modern learning” I hope to cover that.

There’s volumes and volumes written on leadership and what I present here are only my personal thoughts.

There are different aspects of great leadership, depending on the individuals, the context, the organisation, what is trying to be achieved and much more.

One example of a great leader is Christopher Reeve, the actor of Superman The Movie fame. Yes, I’m a huge fan of the Reeve Superman movies. Aside from my childhood love of Superman, part of my admiration is how Reeve behaved and performed after his terrible horse riding accident that left him as a paraplegic in May 1995.

Christopher Reeve photo by Andre Queiroz

Reeve was put into a situation which most of us can never imagine, how his life changed and was severely physically restricted. However out of that horror came strong leadership on a personal level. Reeve campaigned for rights of the disabled, stem cell research for spinal chord injury victims, became a beacon of hope for the physically challenged and a well known campaigner. He also managed to continue to act and direct films.

To me this is about leadership through adversity. Reeve was highly active in his campaigning, being a visible leader for people to follow. He was also personable and approachable as a normal human being and not a Superman.

You’ll have your own aspects of leadership that you see and admire in many different people and situations you’ve been in. Feel free to share those in the comments below, it would be lovely to read about a leader that is personally relevant to you in some way.

Modern learning includes…

This phrase is one that many of us in learning and development use a lot, though probably isn’t used in businesses and organisations that much. I use it because I want to differentiate myself from the poor ‘chalk and talk’ lecture-style delivery that is more traditional in some areas of training.

“Modern learning” highlights:

Jo Cook presenting at a 702010 session at Online Educa Berlin 2016

The world of work has changed and is constantly changing.

What we deliver as part of our role in HR, Organisational Development and L&D needs to keep up and, ideally, be leading the way forward.

We need all the skills mentioned above, and many more, in order to be leading our businesses towards a modern learning and performance culture.

Learning about being a modern learning leader

It’s a question that Sukh Pabial is tackling through a series of webinars, social learning through a Slack channel, and a two day workshop in London. I’m attending these as I want to confirm what I already know and do, share what I’m doing and m approaches to help others, to see what others are doing to update my own methods and learn things I didn’t even know I didn’t know.

Sukh, who is a brilliant and prolific blogger, has a particular post on modern learning and productivity here.

You can come along to the webinars and also the workshop too and I look forward to discussing this with you more over the coming months.

There is also a Twitter conversation on the #MLLeader hashtag.

Conference content – how to keep your delegates enthused

I wrote a blog about a free conference I went to and how it was sales over substance. After recently attending the CIPD L&D Show in London I thought I would share my thoughts again to see what was done differently, and if it was better.

The same… but worlds apart


Both the conferences I attended contained a similar amount of people and setup; an area for exhibitors and different areas for the seminars. This is where the similarities end.

The CIPD L&D Show was not a free conference, though there was a free-to-attend exhibition and sessions. The CIPD L&D Show also opened up the seminars to experts and professionals who had real content and the passion to deliver it, rather than in-house employees.

Nearly all of the seminars I went to I came out of them learning something or going away with a drive to focus on something in particular.

Content not sales

The speakers would of course mention where they worked and their company or institution as it’s a great opportunity to enhance profile. They might mention throughout their presentation specific points of how their company did certain things but it was never done as a sales pitch. Passion was delivered and strong content provided, people would be able to go away and start trying techniques that had been offered.

I know for myself that I followed on Twitter and on Facebook the majority of the speakers at the seminars I went to. I found websites and put them into my favourite resources to go back and reference. Will I convert into a sale? Potentially. Do I have brand awareness? Most definitely!

Separating passion and sales

The CIPD L&D Conference was a great blend of the two; the free exhibitor floor had many companies trying to raise awareness and make sales. This was expected and if you moved yourself into that environment it was the mind-set you had gone into and were ready for.

On the exhibition floor there were lots of free seminars on offer. As I spent more time in the Conference I only saw the Ignite sessions (you can watch them all on Training Journal).

The conference sessions had passion and you could tell it was mainly about people who really wanted to provide some of the knowledge they had gained on their way to becoming an expert in their field or area.

Splitting the free exhibition and the paid-for conference made the conference feel complete and adjusting mind-set depending where you were was easy to do. The previous conference I had attended missed that – there was no divide between sales and content, a constant badgering of sales with next to no worthwhile content.

Knowing what people want


As a delegate we want to come away from the conference feeling the cost of the ticket was worth it for our own personal development and understanding. We take painstaking time to choose the sessions we want to attend because we are trying to maximise our own take away knowledge.

Delegates also understand that people and companies who have attended to exhibit have their own needs and requirements, cost to gain ratio whether that is sales or awareness for the brand.

We want the best of both worlds and can understand both sides of the coin.


I felt the balance at the CIPD L&D Show was spot on. I could flit between the two areas when I felt the urge, I could find like-minded individuals and get their opinions and network with them.

Content and passion and will always win over the hard sale and I saw a lot of passion and absorbed a great deal of superb content.

Prepare to be flexible

Some of you know that over the last couple of years I have been reinvigorating a long neglected garden and have turned into a (very) amateur gardener and vegetable grower. 

My mum, who is retired and grows veg to epic proportions, gives me her old gardening magazines, including Gardeners’ World January 2013.

Gardener and TV presenter Monty Don wrote an article about preparing the garden for the year ahead and how the changes in climate are affecting crops, “from a field of wheat to a few radishes sown in a window box”. 

Monty Don Gardeners' World magazine talking about change

Monty Don Gardeners’ World magazine talking about change

One paragraph in particular resonated with me, not just for the implications of my seed sowing and crop rotation, but in the work we all do every day:

“Doing what you (or your grandfather) have always done and then complaining that the weather has been ‘against’ you is not the answer. However we do not know exactly what to expect. So direct the unexpected and prepare to be flexible.”

Monty is explaining the VUCA world and how to deal with it. We don’t know what the future will bring, so we don’t always know how to prepare for it. Therefore the only way to prepare is to be flexible; ready to change and adapt. 

Monty gives the example of “raising seed in smaller batches and more waves of succession”. This is about failing fast. If your first few batches of seed get ruined by an unexpected late frost, you have more to follow. It’s also not sowing all the seeds in one go, it’s doing something smaller and more often to see the results as time goes on. 

As I look at expanding Lightbulb Moment, I have many ideas of what to do and achieve. Just like I have many fantasies about what to do with my garden. I have to carefully select the ‘seeds’ that I sow, how many and at what time. 

In my garden last year, after removing dead and safety-risk leylandii trees, I wanted to get the newly made border dug over and planted up beautifully. That didn’t happen and still hasn’t. There wasn’t the time, money or energy. Likewise there are things I want to do with my business that I know probably won’t happen this year. But it’s ok, I can use that time to research, listen to my clients and plan. 

My border might get started later this year, and next year might look great. Just like my business. 

Jo Cook enjoying the garden!

Jo Cook enjoying the garden!

Soft skills gap – do appraisals really work for identification?

Next week I’m the guest speaker on the Bray Leino Learning webinar, “Identifying and Closing Soft Skills Gaps.” You can register here.


Appraisals are often used in organisations to review achievement and also look forward to goal setting for the coming year, which should include identifying all sorts of skills gap and how to close them. You can read a brief history of performance management here to get more of a background.

There are some that suggest the annual performance appraisal is a dying process. This includes Josh Bersin in his LinkedIn article, “Are Performance Appraisals Doomed?“.

The negative look at appraisals

In this article from Personnel Today, data from the Corporate Executive Board (now Gartner) showed that “the average manager spends more than 200 hours a year on activities related to performance reviews, but a staggering 90% of HR leaders feel the process does not yield accurate information”.

This Harvard Business Review article commented on the fitness of purpose for the future of business, that appraisals had a “heavy emphasis on financial rewards and punishments and their end-of-year structure, they hold people accountable for past behaviour at the expense of improving current performance and grooming talent for the future, both of which are critical for organisations’ long-term survival”.

Are manager’s supporting the learner?

Moving away from the debate of appraisals and whether they are fit for purpose any more, a recent webinar with Lentum Learning Transfer Software and Lever Transfer of Learning highlighted results from their 2017 Learning Transfer Research (due to be published very soon).

The webinar included these results:


Above shows the steep drop from what is learned initially to sustaining that learning for longer term performance in the workplace, as reported by L&D survey respondents globally.

Lentum and Lever highlight that this is a significant issue in the investment of resources into L&D programmes without significantly showing change in workplace performance.

Additionally, this data was telling about manager support:


A staggering 46% of respondents stated that manager’s were not involved in supporting the learning transfer, and therefore work improvement, of their direct reports.

This post from 70:20:10 framework champion Charles Jennings writes about research that shows “managers who set clear objectives, explain their expectations, and clearly set out how they plan to measure performance have teams that outperform others by almost 20%.”

A great Training Journal blog from Paul Matthews of People Alchemy states that “the delegate should be sent back from the course with a list of actions and goals that will deliver on the desired, paid-for business outcomes. That is the core purpose of learning transfer.”

With this information it seems absolute madness that more organisations don’t have these processes, approaches and, probably most importantly, culture as part of their business. Why wouldn’t you want to improve performance by 20%? If your managers are spending 200 hours (or over five weeks!) a year on performance reviews, why wouldn’t you want to see the pay off from that time?

Is the problem that manager’s are too busy? Is it that they don’t see anything to do with ‘learning’ as their job? Do L&D do a poor job of uniting learning to performance? It’s yes to all of them, and many, many more elements involved too.

Harold Jarche, on his blog, states that ““We have come to a point where organisations can no longer leave learning to their HR or training departments. Being able to understand emerging situations, see patterns, and co-solve problems are essential business skills. Learning is the work.”

What can we do about identifying and closing the soft skills gap?

You can join us on the webinar on Wednesday 26th April 2pm UK time, 11pm AEST, 9am EST, and discuss further!

Register here for free


Effectively moving on up – personal reflection on McKinsey research

How do you effectively move up the corporate ladder and make changes with impact? It’s a huge challenge that was researched and reported on in this report: Ascending to the C-suite.

The report focuses on managers moving into senior roles and it opens with “nearly half of top executives say they weren’t effective at earning support for their new ideas when they moved into C-suite roles—and more than one-third say they have not successfully met their objectives during their tenures”.

This struck me as being shocking – not having the support to achieve what you need to in the job. Whilst I’m not vying for a Chief-level job any time soon, I am master and commander of my own business and am at a point of looking at the development of Lightbulb Moment for the next one to three years. In essence, I’m looking at some of the challenges mentioned in this report and it’s time to focus on number one – me!




A point that was found in the research was that “only 27% of respondents believe their organisations had the right resources or programs in place to support their move into a C-level role”. This means to me that I need support if I want to further develop my business. As my company is largely just myself, with some partnerships and out-sourcing, this doesn’t leave me with a support structure inside my organisation.

What I can do though, is find my support elsewhere. This can be through my Personal Learning Network on things like Twitter, or with other businesses owners where we support each other. I can also look into things such as business or personal coaching and so on.

Something for me to consider, as I know I can be a bit of a loner when it comes to this kind of development. This is important as “executives who have made successful transitions… are twice as likely as all others to say they received company support”. Food for further thought.

Another clear point was that “there’s no clear deadline, though, for executives to move effectively and comfortably into their new roles” and I interpret that to mean I should take whatever time I need for research, support and decision making.

Next steps

In the report one piece of advice was to “be purposeful” and not get distracted with “delivering short-term business results”. That’s quite powerful for me as I know I’ve spent a lot of time thinking, perhaps fantasising, in the last year about my business development, with not as much action as I wanted. What I have done is focus a lot on my customers and fulfilling those contracts to the absolute best of my ability. This is excellent, as I feel that Lightbulb Moment has a very good reputation and gets business by word of mouth. However it did mean that there wasn’t the time to put into self-development. I’m now in a position to change the focus away from the short-term.

Another nugget was to “think holistically about [their] new responsibilities and identify the nuances of each aspect [so they can] take purposeful action”. This means to me not to rush in, as I wrote earlier, and to perhaps think and plan the elements I want to develop a little more than I have in the past.

It’s going to be an interesting year!


Flowering in L&D

Yesterday I wrote this blog post for Training Journal, about how to refresh ourselves in our professional life. It was inspired by seeing a stagnant stream on a walk.

This morning I went on a similar walk and saw some plant life that reminded me of two things: blooming in adversity and perspective.

Blooming in adversity 

Where I walk it’s full of what we would call weeds in our gardens – lots of ivy, nettles and all sorts, as well as nicer ferns and blackberries. flowers1

Whilst walking along I saw this one flower blooming in amongst the tangle of everything else. With yesterday’s blog on my mind and knowing that there are many of our L&D colleagues in organisations that don’t support modern work-learning methods and feel frustrated, this one flower made me think about being the one person doing something despite all that’s going on around.

I remember an organisation I worked in where I seemed to be the one L&D team member taking a consultative approach with our internal customers. It seemed obvious to me, to ask what they wanted, what the problems where and how we would know we’d made a difference. The clients felt listened to, like they got what they needed as well as what they wanted. Of course I often felt frustrated with my colleagues – I sometimes felt that they were the tangle, offering training menus where I was trying to encourage whole different recipes and cuisines!

I learnt from those experiences, I achieved successes, I learnt from failures. Seeing this one flower made me realise how just one bloom can make such a difference.


On the way back from my walk I came to the point where I’d seen the one flower. And I was pleasantly surprised – on the other side there were lots of those flower heads!

Sadly my photo doesn’t capture it as well as I saw it, lots of pale white petals adorning the green wild mound of foliage.


This made me smile and think about how a change of perspective can make all the difference. Where I had seen a lone flower, there were actually many!

This is about connecting with others – they could be in your team or department, or more widely in your organisation. Arguably the wider organisation may be more valuable in you learning about what people and the business need and making a difference.

It’s also about connecting with others in your profession and wider to it. It can be the same old LinkedIn, Twitter, conferences, local CIPD, whatever. The point is finding like-minded and also challenging people where we can all learn, work and support together.

That way we can all be gorgeous flowers in a sea of verdant vegetation.