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Kerryn Kohl

The Coaching House


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The SADEL leader: fostering a ‘fail fast learn faster’ culture


What does a learning leader look like in a Self-Directed, Agile, Digital, Exponential, Learning (SADEL) organisation? In the final part on her content series, organisational behaviourist and learning strategist Kerryn Kohl explores...

In part 4 of this series on building a SADEL organisation we focused on the three core pillars needed to build effective teams: enabling capability, coaching to competence and mentoring to sustain. In part 5 we shift our focus to look at the organisation and how we lead for learning and innovation.

Leadership within the SADEL organisation requires leaders to shift their focus from directing work to inspiring, motivating and developing their people. Their role becomes one of stating the challenge but allowing their team to tackle it. Instead of solving the challenges and then directing the work around the solution, they leave the solving process to the team.

This is a courageous leader, one that is not afraid to provide the feedback that the team will thrive on. The type of leader that is able to deal with performance by giving credit where it is due but also tackling poor performance or toxic team behaviours head on.  

To achieve this the leader must trust the team and value the knowledge and experience the team brings. All the while coaching and motivating the team whilst assisting them to navigate and overcome impediments. They adopt a fail fast but learn faster approach. 

A new approach to learning

The SADEL leader understands and prioritises learning, seeing the development of their people as a critical outcome.

They understand the speed and complexity of the changes we are facing as well as the impact of intelligent technology. They know that we need to take a different approach when it comes to getting our organisations future ready whilst enabling their people to perform at their peak right now. 

For them developing these critical skills is top of mind. They understand that a new approach to learning is required if they are to meet this strategic imperative, and are willing to experiment. 

Leaders have to get the 'fail fast learn faster' culture embedded and develop their people to become increasingly curious, open to change and self-directed. Self-directed digital learning is key

Learning in the 21st Century needs to root itself in Heutagogy, which recognises that learners are self-directed and embrace learning due to curiosity but do not always follow a linear path. There is a call to digitise learning because it supports the self-directed adult learner and gives the learners control over: 

  • Preference

  • Pace

  • Place

  • Path

When organisations digitise learning they allow employees to become proactive, engaged partners in the learning process. To digitise learning does not simply refer to the conversion of learning content. Instead it should be seen as an opportunity for us to rethink the way we design learning. 

When designing learning to take advantage of the available technology, the SADEL leader applies both a design thinking and agile mindset to the process. They ensure that the design is learner centric and spend sufficient time understanding what they are solving before developing any learning elements. 

SADEL leaders must adopt a hypothesis-driven approach – i.e.  if we do xxx then xxx will happen and employees will experience xxx benefits and behaviour will shift to xxx which can be measured by xxx. This shift allows them to exceed the benefits of the current outcomes-based approach, and fully harness the capability of a self-directed and curious workforce.  

Digital learning allows learners to direct their learning based on curiosity and this, along with openness to change, are key if SADEL leaders are to foster a culture of innovation and an environment that is free of fear.

Driving a culture of innovation is not without its challenges. But to begin, leaders have to get the 'fail fast learn faster' culture embedded and develop their people to become increasingly curious, open to change and self-directed. 


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