by | Jul 10, 2023

What do you need to stop doing? The Power of the Action Learning Set

SMK Associate Dr Kate Paradine coordinated the first Action Learning Set (ALS) for CEO’s and other senior leaders of campaigning organisations.

I have loved being part of my own Action Learning Set (ALS) for the last couple of years and it’s a real honour to be co-ordinating this ALS with SMK. Since April, eight senior leaders and six CEOs have come together in two different sets to explore the workplace challenges they face and find ways forward together.

There are three main reasons campaigning charity leaders give for joining their ALS.

Space: To create space for themselves to think, plan and discuss deeply the most important challenges they face.

Solidarity and building community: Connecting to other peer leaders who face similar challenges for a sense of community.

Action Learning: Focussing deeply on complex issues, access different perspectives, ask important questions and produce solutions.

One of the central elements of ALS methodology is listening deeply and asking searching questions that help open up new perspectives. The foundation of this is the belief that often the answers are right there and just need unlocking. It’s incredible to see how solutions to problems can unfold just by the power of peers to ask different questions.

One of the reasons why we keep sets as groups of peers, rather than, for example, mixing CEOs and senior leaders in one set is the importance of a common context. For example, CEOs often have different challenges at Board level to other senior leaders. That sense of solidarity and connection also has special resonance when peers come together who have dealt with particular issues or may be in the middle of a similar challenge.

Every time I meet in an ALS environment (either co-ordinating or participating) I am struck by the power of the open questions and often feel ‘brought up short’ by a perspective that just one question prompts.

My three favourite questions over the last few weeks.

What do you need to stop doing? This question can apply to individual actions and thinking patterns, or to the ways of doing things in an organisation or a particular activity that a charity is investing in. With an election fast approaching and financial times so tough, there has never been a more crucial time for campaigning charities and their leaders to ask this question.

What would your 80-year-old self say to you about this situation? So often in leadership positions we find ourselves stuck. Sometimes when you are in an ALS environment it feels like the collected wisdom is creating that ‘you’ of the future who sees the bigger picture and can end a sense of paralysis.

What power do you have? This simple question is one of the most important for individuals and campaigning charities. So often we feel powerless or spend time on things we have no real power to change.

Reflecting on my combined ALS experiences, the most important lesson I have learned is the truth of the words of the Japanese philosopher, Ryunosuke Satoro “Individually we are one drop, together we are the ocean.” If you are a CEO or a senior leader of a campaigning charity and are interested in joining a new SMK Action Learning Set in the Autumn, then please get in touch.

Kate Paradine

Dr Kate Paradine is facilitator for the action learning sets for CEOs and senior leaders of campaigning organisations. She is an SMK Associate and the former CEO of Women in Prison.



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