4 Reasons Why You Need to Join a Community of Practice

A Community of Practice works together.What do all of the following success stories have in common?

The math department “dream team” that increased academic achievement for at-risk kids with an unheard-of 70-point gain in one year.

The team of school principals who collectively interviewed and determined which candidate was best suited at which campus across the school district.

The leadership team whose program ideas were so fruitful, they gained national recognition and became featured speakers at several high visibility conferences.

Answer: They were all the result of a Community of Practice. 

My experience with Communities of Practice has been such an overwhelmingly positive one over the years. I was involved in all of the above examples! But it begs the question:

“What does it mean to be part of a Community of Practice and how can I join one?”

I love it when people ask me this question! 

It is the furthest thing from staff development or professional development that you can imagine. It’s the space where I learn the most, where I am stretched the most, and where I become better at what I do.

I’d like to share with you four reasons to join a Community and Practice (CoP).

1. You feel accountable (in a good way).

When you’re in your Community of Practice, you are with a group of your peers, people who are accountable and hold you accountable. In a successful CoP, trust is the bedrock on which the community is built. 

There’s a sense of accountability because the group works together to co-construct their own set of norms. They also see the need for continued dialogue about the norms, or standards, to ensure that each voice is heard in the shared behaviors for the group. When you own the norms by which your community runs, a feeling of accountability naturally follows. 

2. You can be fearlessly transparent.

A Community of Practice is not the place for the “pretending” that’s so common in the business world. Successful CoPs are a place for vulnerability. Community collaborators share their practice, and even more daringly, their struggles with their practice. A great measure of effective community building is the growing sense of trust within the group. Honest and open communication within your community can greatly increase your ability, and grow your capacity for accomplishing what you need to accomplish. 

When we’re part of a genuine community, we’re reminded that we need each other in order to grow, develop, achieve, and solve the complex problems we’re facing. There’s a vulnerability in that, but that’s okay. This great article from Dara Blumenthal reminded me of the importance of transparency in the workplace. For most of us, it’s where we spend most of our time. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we were given permission to be ourselves?

3. You get to be creative with your solutions. 

None of us enjoy attending a meeting where there are no new ideas or inspirations, where everyone in attendance seems to be playing their roles, and every “new” idea is predictable. Our own uniques voices can be dulled by our respective titles, the roles we are accustomed to playing, the ways we ignore our personal challenges, and social conditioning we’ve tolerated. 

A Community of Practice is a space of ideas and generation of possibilities. I find that I am more genuine, more passionate, and more understanding of the viewpoints of others’ when I’m part of a CoP. The conversations tend to be nonlinear as we give ourselves permission to explore out-of-the-box solutions.

4. You grow as an embodied leader.

In my last post, I spoke about embodied leadership. It’s about seeing the context — making sense of your story, understanding where you come from, understanding what you believe, and importantly, how your emotions are showing up in your body. Embodied leaders are more mindful of what is happening in their bodies, they are able to capably respond to stress triggers, proactively create shifts in their body, and handle difficult situations skillfully. 

The CoP environment nurtures this type of leadership since as a team you’re learning to “be” together, not just “do” together. In an increasingly independent and disconnected world, you are exploring connection and interdependence. Which is why, in my experience, a CoP is one of the best ways to practice leadership skills. 

Are you intrigued by the benefits of a Community of Practice? Are you wondering how to join one? If you’re part of a team, which most of us are, either at work or as part of an organization, you can adapt this model. I work with teams to help them create a self-facilitating Community of Practice that supports both adaptive and generative learning that is built, owned, and managed by your team. Contact me to learn more or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team.

Embodied Leadership—The Key To Lasting Change for You and Your Team

A young women practicing embodied leadership.As a leader, you have to be willing to change and adapt. If you resist change, your team will follow your lead and will quickly flounder. Most organizations recognize this, which is why they invest millions of dollars on training leaders. Yet, according to an article on the Harvard Business Review, studies show a 60-70% failure rate for organizational change projects.

Organizational change is so difficult because there is a huge chasm between knowing you need to make a change and being able to actually implement it. For example, perhaps you know you need to be a clearer communicator, but you get in a hurry and your quickly-drafted-email confounds your assistant once again! Or how many times have we read about the importance of exercise or healthful eating, yet it doesn’t seem to translate into action? There is a disconnect between our understanding of the ways in which a changed behavior could be beneficial and its actual implementation.

If you’re like me, a 60-70% failure rate is simply unacceptable. The ability to follow through with a change, or a challenge, is a vital skill that all leaders need. I’ve recently discovered an approach that can bridge the gap between knowledge and action—embodied leadership.

My Discovery—A Lifelong Friend and a New Approach to Leadership

Louise Santiago and Marie ConnollySeveral years ago, I enrolled in a coach development program through Coaches Rising. Through the class, I met Maria Connolly. We soon found that we had a deep connection based on our mutual belief, that everyone has innate leadership skills

Maria is a somatic coach, and I am an executive leadership coach. Our unique blend of talent helped us realize that we could offer opportunities for women to bring forth their own inner leaders to expand their world, their community, and themselves, so we launched Newave Leaders.

Embodied leadership became a theme in our work together. 

In order to be an embodied leader, you have to make sense of your story, understand where you come from, understand what you believe, and importantly, how your emotions are showing up in your body. All these things are impacting whether or not you can step into the next phase of your life. Without this understanding, this embodied intelligence, you won’t be able to make lasting changes in your behaviors and attitudes. 

We realized how important this idea was to lasting change! So, to share it with others, we designed an annual women’s retreat. These retreats are an opportunity to travel to different parts of the world and truly retreat and explore our depths to actualize a plan to embody the changes we wish to make as we push ourselves to the next level of growth. 

Maria and I both lead and experience the retreat each year and have found it enriches our own individual coaching practices. I’m so excited to have the opportunity to develop my own practice and collaborate with a great partner around the intersection of our work. (If you’re interested in learning more about Newave Leaders, check out our blog, or sign up for our newsletter.) 

Embodied leadership coaching is also an integral part of my work with my Center for Learning Leaders clients. If you’re ready to make sustainable changes and lead with intention, integrity, and in alignment with your purpose, please fill out the questionnaire on my Coaching for Executives page.

A Split-Second Strategy to Better Manage Your Emotional Response as a Leader

A leader snaps at a team-member then remember to reappraise her emotions. “You will not be punished for your anger, you will be punished by your anger.”-Buddha

At one time or another, all leaders experience strong negative emotions—irritation, discouragement, frustration, and even anger. We all know how disturbing it can be to lose control over negative emotions, even if only for a moment because a lot of damage can occur in that moment.

How you handle these emotions can be a make a huge difference in the success of your team. Most of us have probably experienced working with an irritable supervisor or touchy coworker and it can be distracting and draining! Let’s consider a few common ways of handling negative emotions, and examine what modern research tells us about how a 21-century leader can best manage her emotions. 

Express or Suppress?

The history of conventional wisdom in regard to managing negative emotions is a long and interesting one. But one aspect of this multigenerational discussion seems to continually resurface: Should we express or suppress our negative emotions?

For much of history, popular wisdom held that one should never express negative feelings and that doing so could only be harmful. However, during the mid-20th century, there was a major shift among many influential psychologists. They contended that strong negative emotions should be expressed. The thinking was that if these negative emotions went unexpressed (anger in particular), it could cause ulcers, heart attacks, headaches, etc, as well as wreaking havoc on human relationships. 

So, where do we stand now? 

How should leaders respond to a negative incident? Should a leader master her frustration, put on a fake smile, and not discuss the problem? Or should she honestly and fully express her feelings? Which one of these is going to work best?

As it turns out, neither strategy is truly effective. 

Completely suppressing negative emotions has led to a whole host of negative consequences—fewer close relationships, less social support, and lower life satisfaction. Suppressing our negative emotions also elevates other people’s stress response. The problem with this strategy is that it essentially says, “Ignore the problem until it goes away,” but instead of going away the emotions fester. 

What about fully expressing one’s anger? Since suppression can be so harmful it would seem like the other extreme, expression, could work. However, fully expressing the frustration you’re feeling in the moment can destroy the trust you’ve built with your team. What’s more, instead of bringing you relief, expressing your negative emotions often leads to only more negative emotions. 

Quickly Reappraise Your Viewpoint

Modern research is pointing to a different way of dealing with negative emotions—reappraisal. Reappraisal is the re-framing of a problem where one focuses attention on the problem’s root. Instead of viewing a problem as a threat, which decreases performance and motivation, it’s viewed as a challenge. 

Reappraisal works so well because it is a way of redirecting negative emotions instead of trying to stifle or encourage them. It can be helpful to take deep breaths and let the negative emotion wash over you, then redirect your focus towards the challenge. 

For example, suppose you are driving down the freeway when another driver cuts you off trying to make their exit. Immediately, you feel a swell of anger overtake you. Now you have a couple of options—let the situation ruin your day or try to reappraise it. Instead of labeling the person as a reckless driver, perhaps she was late for work and worried about upsetting her boss, or maybe the woman was driving someone to the hospital. 

Notice that it was a slip-second decision to reappraise the scenario. The original appraisal was involuntary—that person is a reckless driver. Whereas the reappraisal, or re-judging of the situation in a more neutral or positive direction, took a concerted effort as well as strong awareness. Studies have shown that this small effort can alter one’s subjective emotional experience very quickly.

This reappraisal strategy is priceless for those of us that are leaders. The complexity of executive leadership, especially when combined with the modern entrepreneurial spirit can be both rewarding and challenging. Leaders need to be able to handle negative emotions in a constructive way. 

So the next time you feel a spark of anger towards your bumbling colleague, try to reappraise the situation. You just might be saving yourself a world of hurt. 

Exceptional leadership isn’t accidental. One-on-one coaching is the fastest way to get the training, support, and accountability you need to focus on your growth as a leader. If you’re ready to lead with intention, integrity and in alignment with your purpose, please fill out the questionnaire on my Coaching for Executives page.


How to Encourage a Learning Culture in Your Organization

A group of business-people part of a successful learning culture.“The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization.” – Peter Senge

Creative… innovative… proactive… are these the words you would use to describe your organization? Or does it feel like you and your team are always a little bit behind the curve and doing what you can to just survive? The difference lies in what kind of learning culture your organization promotes.

In my last post, I focused on the power that Social Learning can have and the importance of learning by example in organizations. Leveraging the knowledge of experts within your organization is a great way to increase the overall knowledge base, as well as the potential for adaptive learning. 

What is adaptive learning? Actually, it’s quite simple: identify a problem or an obstacle preventing you from getting somewhere, and then work to solve the problem. 

However, there are limits to adaptive learning. Increasingly, 21st-century organizations require something called generative learning — changing the parameters, and discovering new ways of perceiving and thinking about our problems. 

Promoting this type of learning in your organization requires much more than learning purely by example. It requires a learning culture. Organizations with strong learning cultures have some distinct elements that differentiate them from the rest of the pack. 

5 Basic Elements of a Learning Culture

  • Belief in people’s ability to learn. It’s not just finding naturally curious people, it’s also encouraging current members of your team. This requires confidence in people’s ability to change—both their environments and themselves. 
  • Time and a degree of creative freedom. Don’t be afraid to give people the time they need to explore and discuss new, out-of-the-box ideas. Give your team a real-life challenge to focus on rather than a theoretical scenario. 
  • Open communication. Empower people to submit ideas and suggestions without fear of derision. The goal is to create a climate that nurtures critical thinking, where challenging authority and speaking up are encouraged. 
  • Collaboration is encouraged. Competition is not always the best way to achieve results — every member of the team should recognize that in many situations interdependence and collaboration is far more effective. 
  • Reinforcement of positive learning behaviors. Often, employees are asked to maximize results, efficiency, and productivity, even when it comes at the expense of continued learning. Therefore, it’s vital that organizations provide their teams the tools, infrastructure, and support they need to learn.

It can be quite difficult to incorporate some of these elements into an organization (that’s why more organizations don’t try). What’s more, there is a general bias toward linear, short-term planning that often comes at the expensive of systemic, long-term planning. Another inhibitor to learning cultures is the myth that leaders always have to be in control, dogged, and dominant. This inclination can quickly stifle a learning culture. 

However, the results are worth the effort. Rather than just surviving, your organization could be thriving by enhancing its capacity to create. I work with teams to help them create a self-facilitating Community of Practice that supports both adaptive and generative learning that is built, owned, and managed by your team. Contact me to learn more or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team.

Harness the Power of Social Learning in Your Organization

Social learning in an organization. “In order to succeed, people need a sense of self-efficacy, to struggle together with resilience to meet the inevitable obstacles and inequities of life.” – Albert Badura

Many leaders are increasingly frustrated by the time and money wasted on traditional types of training. These seminars, workshops, and webinars, while packed with helpful information, rarely lead to tangible results. If you lead a team, finding the best way for your team to be fully engaged in what they are learning should be a priority. Which is why many organizations are looking at social learning.

Although the term is relatively new, social learning has been a powerful vehicle for human progress throughout history. According to ideas proposed by learning experts, such as psychologist Albert Bandura, we learn primarily via interaction and shared experience. 

One increasingly popular example of a social learning forum is YouTube. YouTube users upload their own content, on a topic of their choosing, and the content’s credibility is mainly determined by the popularity and rating of the video from those within the community. This highlights a key difference—social learning is self-regulatory. (Interestingly, an article from Wegner and Trayner comments on how some online communities mirror aspects of Communities of Practice). 

What are the advantages of social learning?

One advantage of social learning is that it stimulates attention and motivates action. It’s very difficult to learn information when you don’t find it interesting. The social element adds a degree of pressure and increases our focus. There is also typically some kind of social reward that goes along with our learning, which further motivates us. 

Another advantage of social learning is that learners retain more, and for longer. In traditional learning environments, there is often a lack of information retention evident after only a few days. Social learning encourages practical learning in working environments and allows learners to actively pull knowledge from experts within the organizations instead of having knowledge pushed on them (which leads to less retention).

Social learning is integral to a Community of Practice — a community that develops organically from a common concern who collectively use their skills and knowledge to build trust and share solutions. The communities that result from social learning establish a system for troubleshooting, problem-solving, research and development, and innovation. There is no better way to ensure engagement from each member of your team!

How to Adopt Social Learning 

Draw on the help of experts. 

The principle tenet of social learning is the power of learning by example. Every organization has people that are more experienced than others in various areas. Educate your team by giving them channels where the experts on your team can share their knowledge. 

Forums and message boards. 

These channels can be easily created and maintained online. It should be a space where participants can ask questions and receive answers from within the organization. It can also be a good idea to encourage users to rate answers by their educational value. Another way to quickly get a new member up to speed is the use of an inter-organizational wikipedia as a source of specific, helpful information. 

Reward progress.

You can’t force someone to learn, but you can make it as easy and rewarding as possible. A great way to encourage your team to share their knowledge is via shared tools that support collaboration. Invest in good infrastructure to provide your team with the tools they need to collaborate effectively in real-time.

There’s no doubt that social learning is a powerful way to improve the effectiveness of your organization. Nothing can replace the process of asking questions and testing solutions on actual problems in real-time. 

Are you intrigued by what your team could achieve using social learning in your organization? Contact me to learn how your team can develop an action-oriented model of activities and ways of communicating that drives you towards your joint purpose. Or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team to learn how to get started.

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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