Personal learning contract guide

Introduction

In this unit you will be working with a peer coach to develop a personal learning contract focused on improving your confidence, willingness and ability to contribute to leadership work for innovation and uncertainty.

The aim of this guide is to help you and your peer coach during that process.

Together with your coach you need to:

  • carefully and systematically diagnose one specific and significant behaviour that you believe that you need to change in yourself in order to improve your confidence, willingness and ability to contribute to leadership work for innovation and uncertainty
  • draft a personal learning contract that will enable you to begin the process of building or improving that behaviour over time.

You are expected to focus on developing your personal learning contract throughout this semester, and to attempt one or two mini-experiments that will help you refine your diagnosis. The implementation of your completed contract is not expected during this semester.

Your focus needs to be on diagnosis of, and seeking feedback on, your capabilities as well as systematic reflection and analysis – all the while ‘road testing’ your ideas and your understanding with your coach to get their feedback and to reality test your ideas.

The role of your peer coach

Throughout the semester, your coach has an active role to play in helping you to develop your contract. You must make contact with your coach regularly (email/Skype/social networking/in person etc) and it is their job to help you to ask and address the trigger questions in this guide. Your coach needs to see and read your evolving personal learning contract and help you to improve it by engaging in dialogue with you about it and, where appropriate, by making suggestions and giving you specific feedback.

Your coach needs to be satisfied that what you are proposing in your personal learning contract is a useful and appropriate development activity for you. It is expected that their assessment of this will draw extensively on their experience of working with you as you develop and refine your personal learning contract.

Key elements to be covered

Your completed personal learning contract is to be a substantial piece of work and needs include the following elements.

1. Contract title: What I want to work on. The leadership contribution and capability I want to build.

In a few words (approx. 20 to 30) outline the leadership capability (aspect of self) that you want to work on.

The title of your personal learning contract should ‘name’ the leadership capability you want to work on.

Good example titles:

“Being able to influence in leadership meetings – being heard”

“Managing my emotions when I get push back from clients”

“Not avoiding the hard stuff – giving negative (constructive) feedback”

“Learning to listen to criticism without pushing back”

Poor example titles:

“Improving my time management” (this is a skill, not an aspect of self)

“Learn advanced Excel skills” (again this is a skill, not an aspect of self)

2. Diagnosis

Your diagnosis needs to be framed using a model or theory of leadership from the literature.

You may use the model outlined by Clawson (2014) or any suitable model that you find in the leadership literature. You are expected to demonstrate that you have exercised informed judgment in your selection of reference material, whatever its source.

Taking this approach should help you to get started in thinking about your current contribution as a leader and the possibilities to refocus and enhance that contribution. Or it might be that you are already aware of an issue or problem that has highlighted a need for you to refocus and enhance your leadership capability. In either case you need to be able to focus on one clear leadership development need.

Data about the focus and effectiveness of your current leadership contribution – and the possibilities for change – can be drawn from a wide range of sources, including this and other classes, your experience of and feedback from your coach and from work. Remember too that opportunities for leadership exist in aspects of life other than paid employment; you may choose to draw on your experience of leadership in a family setting, in sporting organisations or in community settings amongst other things.

All data sources and the rationale for their selection must be justified.

Bearing in mind that what sometimes presents as a ‘problem’ or issue is only a ‘symptom’ with deeper causes, you should delve deeply into the data you gather and go beyond your initial understandings to ‘get beneath the surface’ (Clawson 2013). Your work with your coach should help with this aspect of your contract development.

You must also use the theories and models presented in the literature and in class to help you identify, and then thoroughly explore and better understand, the leadership opportunity you have identified.

You will need to justify the use of the theory or model you have chosen and explain how it is relevant to your circumstances. You are expected to demonstrate that you have exercised informed judgment in your selection of reference material, whatever its source.

The process you will follow involves making a ‘gap’ analysis by taking into account where you are NOW and where you would like to be LATER – and developing learning goals to help you to close that ‘gap’.

While the initial triggers are about NOW you might find it useful to trace back over your career to follow the path that has led you to NOW. Exploration of your career and other relevant life history may reveal patterns or themes to explore during the development of your personal learning contract.

NOW:

  • What is the area of your leadership contribution that you want to develop?
  • Why is this important to you?
  • What would be the benefit to others of your developing this capability?
  • How do you know that this is an important area of your leadership contribution that needs refocusing and improving?
  • What do you know already about the effectiveness of your leadership?
  • How do others see your leadership? What information or feedback might you need? Who/what might be sources of that information?
  • Is there a difference between how your view and the views of others? What sense do you make of that?
  • How does your research of the literature or class material help you identify and understand this opportunity to build your leadership capability?
  • Is working on this issue or challenge going to be a ‘stretch’ for you?
  • Is the change you are seeking significant enough to be worth putting in the effort of developing a personal learning contract (and implementing it after completing this unit)?

LATER:

  • If you were able to develop your leadership contribution in this area, what would you be doing differently or better? Where would your effort and energy be focused?
  • What would be the impacts? On what and on whom?

In order to cross the gap, there will be at least one aspect of your self that needs to be developed.

Aspects of self for development could include your:

  • level of sustainable energy (intellectual, physical, emotional and spiritual)
  • confidence
  • skill
  • commitment (how much you care)
  • VABEs (values, attitudes, behaviours and expectations) (Clawson 2013)
  • mental models (Senge 1991)
  • default routines and how well you calibrate them
  • Jung Typology (MBTI) profile (type and temperament).

There are key questions that you should now ask yourself:

  • what aspect of your self limits the leadership contribution that you are currently making or need to make or want to make?
  • what can you realistically change that would develop the self you bring to role?
  • what aspect of your self needs to be enhanced to close the gap between NOW and LATER?

You should identify only one aspect of self you would like to change or enhance. It needs to be something you could realistically tackle over 3–6 months and that gives you a lot of leverage: that is, changing or enhancing this aspect of self will significantly enhance your leadership capability.

There are many ways to help you identify the aspect of self you would like to enhance and to develop your specific learning goals. Dialogue with your coach, conversation and feedback from colleagues and friends, diagnostic tools, 360 degree feedback, the material and exercises we cover in the unit, the literature you read, are all valuable sources of insight.

Mini-action experiments

You are not tasked with implementing your personal learning contract during this semester, but you are expected to try at least one or two mini-experiments that will help you to refine your diagnosis of the enhancements you want to make to self. You need to describe briefly what you did, why, as well as what happened and how it helped you to refine your diagnosis.

3. Learning Goals

You should now be able to set out two or three specific learning goals that will help you develop your chosen aspect of self. For example, if the aspect of self you want to change or improve is some aspect of your skill (e.g. your listening skills) then your learning goals might be:

to experience for yourself what it is like to be listened to to have several different people tell you that you are a better listener to be able to listen attentively to someone you really don’t like. Your learning goals help to operationalise or put into practice your general idea about enhancing some aspect of your leadership: that is, they help you to focus your general idea to make it manageable and ‘do-able’.

4. Impact Analysis

Double check why would you go to all the trouble of planning and doing this: how will your self be enhanced?

Why would you go to all the trouble of planning and doing this? Where’s the value? And for who? What will change? How will you know things have really changed? That is, what evidence will you gather? How? Who from? Will the changes have an impact on others? How will you gauge and interpret their reaction?

5. Action Plan

By following the above process and answering the questions (as a minimum) you should be able to outline a detailed Action Plan. This plan does not need to include specific dates for each of the steps, but should outline the steps in an order that seems to be appropriate and give a broad timeline – for example, after 3 weeks, by month 2, etc.

What is your learning strategy for your personal learning contract?

What actions might you take to reach your goals?

In what order do you intend to take the actions?

6. Measures of Achievement

What will tell you (and others) that you have enhanced your leadership capability (self)? How will you know that you are not ‘fooling’ yourself? Who else (apart from you) is well placed to notice any changes you make?

7. References

You must include a list of references using the Swinburne Harvard Style Guide.

You should be making reference to literature/theory by paraphrasing throughout your contract, but especially in the Diagnosis, Impact Analysis, and Measures of Achievement sections. All work that is not original (i.e. that is not your own) must be referenced.

Be mindful that you need to be reading material related to your diagnosing of a particular development issue, material related to how you might go about ‘closing the gap’ and also material about leadership. While the Additional Readings List outlined in the Week 1 Learning materials can form a basis for this work they fall well short of providing all the literature you will need to explore during the preparation of your personal learning contract.

8. Appendices

Your appendices should contain evidence that your diagnosis has been systematic and thorough, for example:

  • any tests or instruments you have used (e.g. Jung Typology/Myers Briggs; Leadership Skills Index; etc.) to gain insight into your leadership style, your working preferences, your problem solving approaches and so forth
  • copies of diagnostics you have taken from Clawson and Pedler, Burgoyne and Boydell
  • reflections on your need for development of leadership capability as evidenced by ‘critical incidents’ recorded in your professional log/journal/diary
  • feedback from others – through formal 360 degree instruments or informal feedback from peers and colleagues.

Please submit your assignment through Turnitin. More detailed information is available in Assignment 3: Personal learning contract.

Key elements to be covered

This guide has been adapted from Knowles MS, Holton EF & Swanson RA 1998, The adult learner, 5th Ed, Butterworth-Heinemann, Woburn pp. 211–216.

It also draws on the leadership development work of Professor Nita Cherry and of Dr.Julian Lippi of Swinburne University of Technology.