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Learning While Leading
Posted on April 20th, 2015

by Avtar Jagpal

Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate enough to have various leadership opportunities presented to me.  I’ve held both formal and informal leadership positions and have taken advantage of rigorous leadership development programs to hone my skills.  Part of what facilitated these opportunities and put me in these positions was a patience to observe, absorb, and experience the core (and non-core) functions of the organization from the ground up.  I believe that one form of leadership is to immerse yourself into the day to day operations, the processes, the culture, and the environment of an organization to gain a clear understanding of it… before really being able to give yourself a chance at making a larger impact.  This style of leadership can be referred to as ‘Bottom Line Leadership.’ By immersing yourself, not only are you learning but in a way you’re also immediately leading by example.  There could be a tendency to come into an organization in a new leadership position and have a need for control or immediate impact, which may not always be the right route. Especially when that opportunity is one that you are passionate about.  It requires patience.

Before joining e-roleplay, I dove into the company’s online presence to get an idea what to expect.  I visited the website and the first thing that caught my attention was the motto “Practice with us, not your clients.”  It was simple, unique, and powerful.  It all made sense.  Why would you risk making a mistake with your clients, when you can safely practice and be coached in a learning environment?  I was already intrigued to have an opportunity to lead and contribute to the growth of this practice.        

I’ve had the liberty of working at a fortune 500 company, arguably one of the top 10 tech companies in the world, IBM. I came with Leadership experience, a little bit of Talent Management, and of course a Learning and Development background.  With varied experiences and skill sets, I was still lacking a very important factor… and that factor was familiarity.  I hadn’t worked my way up the ranks here at e-roleplay and therefore I wasn’t familiar with the ins and outs of the company. 

Joining e-roleplay was another opportunity to understand a business from the ground up, a chance to observe and absorb the model in a sense from outside, looking in. While I was eager to have an impact, I continuously found myself holding back and forcing myself to be patient.  I knew I wasn’t going to be an effective leader without doing the legwork.  So I jumped right in and immersed myself.  What I found was a diamond in the rough, something so simple yet unique and genuine. The concept of ongoing safe practice using role-play accompanied by real-time coaching/feedback wasn’t something I had been exposed to very much.  Usually one of the two, but not often combined.  This leads me to speak on my appreciation for a unique skillset that we possess. 

During my first week at e-roleplay I sat beside and observed one of our Roleplayer Coaches in action, whom I will refer to as George.  I observed the various actions taking place in this moment with George and his Participant.  He was engaging in conversation with the participant, taking notes, referencing various course content and resources, gathering data, managing a skills list and more…all while being in a real life roleplay scenario with the Participant.  A great deal of multitasking to say the least.  Outside looking in, one could jump to the conclusion that George would be distracted with all these tasks in turn taking away from the roleplay scenario itself, but this was far from it.  It was quite the opposite. What amazed me most was how fully engaged George was in the moment, and how dedicated and committed he was to the participant. Observing this in real-time had me dazed, trying to wrap my head around how this was all coming across as being so effective with so much going on in the background.  Then, suddenly the roleplay ended and transitioned into an immediate coaching/feedback session.  George was now collaborating with the participant talking about strengths, development areas, action plans, and growth.   In a matter of seconds I went from observing a professional actor in a role play scenario, to that same person now expert coaching the participant. It all happened so fast but so seamlessly, efficiently, and effectively.  I looked around the room and noticed a handful of other Roleplayer Coaches doing the same thing with such profession and enthusiasm.  There was a capacity to put hundreds of Participants through a program in a short window of time with each participant being given the same level of attention, detail, dedication and commitment, yet always with an individualized approach.

I was experiencing it from the front lines.  I did this with other areas of the business taking in the sales, operations, and the project management aspects of the business, understanding that a huge amount of expertise goes into the final product. 

In a previous role, I’ve spent time coaching individuals as it pertains to their job roles and skillsets, sometimes close to 25 people a month on a regular basis.  For me, the greatest benefit that came out of these coaching sessions was the progress displayed by these individuals.  Whether it took a few weeks, a month, 6 months, or even a year…seeing that moment of growth was an intangible positive outcome.  It was my favorite aspect of the job.  Like effective leadership at an organizational level, facilitating growth in an individual and/or group takes passion and patience.  When sitting down with the Roleplayer Coach during my first week I realized how e-roleplay aligned with these traits.  We are passionate and we are patient.  We give the participants the time to grow and sustain.  We approach our clients and participants as individuals, not objects. 

Seeing all this in motion only heightened my will to work with the business to help strategize, develop, and grow.  We may not realize it but opportunities to lead (either formally or informally) are presented to us on a daily basis, which I think at times can be taken for granted.  When you have an opportunity to learn from the ground up while staying engaged and present, the long term benefits of establishing credibility, gaining trust, and leading by example are well worth it. It leads to effective leadership.  And when you have an opportunity to lead a mission that has impact, is unique and meaningful, and one which hones in on what you are passionate about…take it!    These are the opportunities we must grasp and run with. For me, that opportunity has come with e-roleplay. Patience is virtue.

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