Deeper Learning

Powering Leaders to Navigate VUCA World with Deeper Learning

This all started one day after my third coaching meeting that day. When each session starts, I always ask, “How are you?” That day, each time, the executive said the same thing: overwhelmed. It was compelling and drove me to a broader question: how do we develop leaders who are agile, can consider a broad range of factors that influence the business context, and can do so in an environment where scenarios are often widely atypical and in a constant state of flux? With deeper learning.

Permanent whitewater, meet VUCA
Our world is complex. The idea of permanent whitewater has been around for many years. Amplified by forces that are connected to each other with rapid-fire speed, permanent whitewater seems almost quaint.

Today’s world, borrowing from a military term used to describe the unfolding and sometimes unraveling events that characterize today’s global leadership context, is being described as a VUCA world. That is, a world where leaders must navigate turbulence that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous.  As Paul Kinsinger and Karen Walch of the Thunderbird School of Global Management have noted, “We are moving from a world of problems, which demand speed, analysis, and elimination of uncertainty to solve, to a world of dilemmas, which demand patience, sense-making, and an engagement of uncertainty.”

VUCA, meet deeper learning
Just how do we develop leaders who can navigate this world? With deeper learning. Coined by journalist Tina Barsheghian, editor of MindShift, Deeper learning describes what it takes to navigate through an increasingly paradoxical world. It is defined as the process for learning that transfers, says James Pellegrino, in Education for Life and Work.

Learning domains for deeper learning
What are the pillars of deeper learning? Learning framed in the cognitive, interpersonal, and intrapersonal domains enables leaders to:

  • Be vigilant and conscientious
  • Reason and  problem solve
  • Be self-directed and self-managing
  • Communicate in ways people can understand and can relate to





Creating environments for deeper learning to occur
When it comes to developing leaders, the challenge is to create environments where deeper learning can occur. This isn’t the same as learning only the facts or theories. It’s more about releasing the hidden assets of diverse leaders, so they can apply critical thinking, the ability to collaborate, and a penchant for learning to make sense of emerging and sometimes unfamiliar situations—and take the right action at the right time.

For deeper learning to occur, leadership development strategies must foster learning agility and pique curiosity.  Developing leaders in a VUCA world requires learning that instills methods that allow developing leaders to:

  • Collaborate to understand their business  context in ways that engage theirs and others’ perspectives
  • Clarify their personal frames of reference and determine whether shifts in thinking and beliefs are needed
  • Work on real issues of concern to them, “giving them a real question or problem that’s worth pursuing and making them feel that they are engaged in authentic, valuable work,” says founder of High Tech High Robert C. Riordan
  • Take ownership of their learning and build a personal curriculum that is relevant to them

Stay ahead of the curve
It is a risk for most companies to invest in learning of this type, as the typical measures and ROI are often not as quantifiable. Yet some are ahead of the curve in doing so, especially those who experience shifts in their business contexts on a regular basis. Regulatory changes, emerging markets, political challenges, and hypercompetitive markets are some examples of these shifts. Leading-edge companies that deal with change are jumping out there to broaden their leadership skills, better adapt to change, and sharpen their critical thinking, so they can be versatile and, at the same time, focused to meet the demands of their businesses. How? You guessed it, with deeper learning.

Engage in deeper learning
Right now, Key Leadership is piloting a program in April that is meant to drive deeper learning, the ability to reflect, and a crisp approach to navigating turbulence in an increasingly volatile world.

To learn more, please get in touch.


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