A Process for Safely Acquiring New High Visibility Leadership Skills

Article by Ken Thompson, last updated September 2021

As leaders many of the new skills we find ourselves having to develop are what I call “high-visibility skills" which bring their own particular challenges.

In this short article I examine the nature of these skills and suggest a proven process for learning them safely.

The Paradox of High Visibility Skills

Learning such skills involves a paradox which goes a bit like this:

  • These types of skill are almost impossible to learn without live practice under pressure
  • Therefore, making mistakes “live” is inevitable  
  • However such mistakes are very visible and potentially high impact
  • Thus we constantly run the risk of damaging client trust and our own confidence as we learn
  • Which makes learning high visibility skills particularly challenging..... 

It makes me think of going to the hospital and how you feel when the doctor asks you: 

“Do you mind if my trainee does your procedure (otherwise how are they going to learn)?”

So how can you learn high visibility leadership skills safely?

A number of years ago I had the privilege of completing a private pilots license plus some instrument qualifications.

It struck me recently that the learning process I went through is almost perfect for developing high-visibility leadership skills such as Team Leadership or Change Leadership.

There are 4 main aspects of this process were:

1. STUDY: A Formal, structured and examined training program

Key aspects: Training, Reading, Testing and Learning

2. PRACTICE: Ever increasing scope of supervised and safe practice

Key aspects: Dual control, teach-back, simulation and dry runs

3. DEVELOP: Individual Rounding, Assessment, Growing and Refreshing

Key aspects: Support, Coaching, Assessment and Continuous Professional Development (CPD)

4. GO LIVE: Ever increasing live responsibility

Key aspects: “Soloing” but with reducing support of more experienced colleagues. 


So, the next time you are asked to acquire a new high visibility leadership skill or you require your colleagues to acquire such skills bear in mind you don’t have to re-invent the wheel! 

You can and should adopt and adapt proven approaches which have been successful in safety critical industries such as aviation and medicine where failure is not just highly visible but also has devastating consequences. 

Depending on the particular skill and the competency level you need to attain, you may not need every single one of the detailed components in this model but you should design your learning process around the 4 fundamental aspects and their interplay – Study, Practice, Develop and Go Live.

Business Simulations can play a vital part in creating that essential safe environment to develop and practice these skills under pressure in realistic scenarios.

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More about Ken Thompson

Ken Thompson

Ken is a practitioner, author and speaker on Leadership, Collaborative Working, High Performing Teams, Change Management, Project Management and Business Acumen. His work has featured in major publications including The Guardian , Wired Magazine, The Huffington Post and The Henry Ford Magazine. Ken has also spoken at many international events including TEDx, the Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI), Learn Tech (London) and NASA.

Ken is Founder of Business Simulations Ltd.

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