Can learning journeys help develop effective leadership?

David Witt

Program Director



Leadership needs to be more of a partnership, according to Susan Fowler, co-creator of the Self Leadership programme from The Ken Blanchard Companies®. “We have to look at leadership as a two-sided coin,” says Fowler. “Good leadership is on one side of the coin. Good followership is on the other.

“Some people in organisations don’t realise that the quality of their work experience depends on their being a good follower. They don’t know how to manage up—help their leaders give them what they need to get their work done.

“As a result, leaders are left to guess what their people need, and they often don’t guess correctly. Direct reports must accept responsibility for knowing and communicating to their manager what they need to succeed.”

The key to effective leadership is to see it as a partnership process and use a common language, says Fowler.

“The good news is that we can teach people how to be good partners in leadership. We can teach individuals to ask for feedback, collaborate on making goals SMART, and go beyond problem spotting to problem solving.

“Our SLII® leadership development programme helps leaders understand that they need to be flexible and match their leadership style to the development needs of their people. In our Self Leadership programme, we teach individual contributors the mindset and skillset to communicate what they need. When people can meet their leader halfway, the potential for achieving goals and peak performance improves exponentially.”


Fowler shares three skills from the Self Leadership programme that people can use to meet their managers halfway. These skills are parallel with what is taught in Blanchard’s SLII® programme.

  1. Goal setting. “Self leaders learn how to clarify a goal that isn’t specific, measurable, or trackable, how to negotiate a goal if it is not attainable or relevant, and how to reframe a goal if it isn’t optimally motivating for them.”
  2. Diagnosing development level. “Who better to diagnose an individual’s development level than the individual themselves? Self leaders learn how to diagnose their own competence and commitment on a goal and how to share their development level with their manager.”
  3. Asking for what you need. “This means being able to say ‘Here is my development level and here is the matching leadership style I need from you.’ Self leaders learn how to use the same language and the same model as their managers, which makes one-on-one conversations more effective.”

“Imagine,” Fowler says, “if a person comes up to their manager and says, ‘I’m pretty clear on what you want from me, but given that I’ve never done this task before, I need clarity, direction, and an action plan on how to do it.’ Everyone wins when people have the mindset and the skillset to diagnose their situation and ask for what they need. You avoid wasted time and missed expectations.”


Britney Cole, Blanchard’s Vice President, Solutions architecture and innovation strategy, says the key to this type of learning initiative is a learning journey approach—and the three keys to designing learning journeys work for both managers and their people.

  1. Start with who instead of what. Create end user personas. Don’t see people as their roles—see them as individuals with needs, wants, and desires. Identify what’s relevant to them.
  2. Stay obsessed with the end user. Focus on what learners need to say, do, think, and feel. Look beyond the event to how you can continue to drive behaviour change and create new habits.
  3. Know what success looks like ahead of time. Be prepared to demonstrate tangible value to both the employee and the organisation.

For L&D professionals looking to inspire and influence a leadership team that may not recognise the value of a full and complete learning journey, start with the end in mind. What does success look like? What needles are you trying to move?


“Sometimes you have to do the up-front work and show the vision,” says Cole. “It’s possible your leadership team doesn’t fully understand what you mean by learning journey. It’s your responsibility to communicate what, when, and how. Create one or two personas. Build a one-page learning journey. You may even need to scope the investment and share how that investment will provide a return based on research.

It can seem like a lot of extra work at first, but it pays off with increased impact in the end, says Cole.

“This is where L&D professionals can go from building disparate and irrelevant learning programmes to creating experiences that actually influence business results. That’s a goal we are all looking to achieve!”

The Ken Blanchard Companies®

Would you like to learn more about creating an integrated learning journey focused on both managers and direct reports? Join us for an online event on “Leading Self and Leading Others” featuring Blanchard’s learning journey approach.