Cover Story

Managers' Learning Pathways

First up, there was a problem. In the early 1990s, the late Prof. Chris Argyris of the Harvard Business School found that a majority of professional managers resisted further learning and training once they’d been appointed to a management position.

Argyris observed that managers were usually appointed because of a particular set of skills and experience. Once having got the job, the idea that they may still have things to learn was not well received by them. The thinking went: “I’ve been appointed therefore I must already know what I need to know to do the job.”

Much has changed since Argyris did his research. GAC managers today practice their craft in a human-digital domain and a disruptive market environment. In such conditions, the notion of continuous learning is accepted by all bar a few diehards. For example, in 2016, GAC managers in the Middle East participated in Leading High Performance Teams, offered through the GAC Corporate Academy. Another 25 GAC managers in Europe undertook various studies during the year.

Ask the Guru

Argyris noted in his early studies that there was a critical need for managers to be more introspective: to review their internal thinking and decision-making processes and seek greater clarity on why they are thinking a certain way and what impacts this has on decision making. And the bottom line.

The late Stephen Covey, author of ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ suggested in a later book that professional learners should aim to ‘advance the middle’. He argued that managers should firstly divide their skills and knowledge levels into strong, middling or weak and then focus on the middling ones. Time spent trying to lift up an area of weakness was time and money wasted. At best, Covey argued, a weak skill area might become middling. However, time spent developing middling skill areas could turn them into strengths.

But what to study? A Google search of ‘online management courses’ turns up 254 million results. There is no shortage of content. Then there are management portals like which one GAC manager subscribes to in order to ‘sharpen the saw’, another Covey quote.

Open-minded managers, unafraid of harsh truths, might gain value from a 360 degree audit or review of their performance. Letting superiors and subordinates share their views on your performance can provide useful perspectives on what needs attention. It can also expose a manager to criticism he or she would rather not hear.

Coaches and mentors

Some GAC managers make use of a coach, others have mentors. Coaches are usually professional service providers (see Goran Wilner’s article here). Mentors are usually senior, with lengthy management experience. A mentor can be a favoured boss from the early days, a wise colleague, sometimes a mother or father. There is even reverse mentoring where a manager brings in the punk Gen Y kid with the smart tech and smart attitude to help him/her get better at techie things.

Ask the PA

In the end, the actual choice of content or learning pathway doesn’t matter hugely. Valuable learning can arise as much from helping your child with a school project as from a big dollar summer course at INSEAD.

Nevertheless, GAC Chat decided to help managers make useful learning choices. We reasoned thus: If you want to know what mood your boss is in, ask the PA (or Admin Manager). If you want to know what the boss is having for lunch, ask the PA. If you want to know your boss’s strengths, weaknesses or middlings, ask the PA. So we did. Our coverage of Managers' Learning continues with some of our PAs’ considered views. It’s but one more place to find your learning pathway.

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