There’s no question that today’s leaders face a range of evolving challenges: supply chain breakdowns, return-to-work dynamics, worker burnout and mental health concerns — and the list goes on. Here is the question learning leaders must all ask: Are our organizations just muddling through in the hope that they will survive, or are they taking advantage of these unprecedented conditions?

The bright side of today’s business challenges is that the very situations that are presenting themselves as problems offer rich opportunities for career learning and growth when we look at them from a different angle — through a learning and development (L&D) lens.

Take return-to-work and navigating remote and hybrid environments for instance. Some leaders resist the workforce’s demand for greater flexibility and enforce old models of co-located work. Yet others are using it to challenge themselves and their employees. Some organizations are looking at what’s required to optimize in-person time.

And some leaders are taking it even further, exploring how opportunities for greater flexibility can be mined for rich and personalized learning and career development. For instance:

  • Raj, a leader in a financial service firm, challenged his staff to look critically at the work they’re responsible for, identify where the high-impact collaboration points exist and develop a plan for intentionally working with peers to achieve greater results.
  • Leila, a supervisor for a national non-profit, acknowledges how easy it is for distributed employees to get “lost in the shuffle.” That’s why she’s working with each remote direct report to ensure that they have the skills and strategies to constructively and consistently make their contributions known — something that will serve them well now and throughout their careers.
  • Meg, a director within a software company, recognized that managing a hybrid group was the perfect “baby step” toward ultimately leading a global team. So, she assigned hybrid teams to two key employees who aspired to that kind of international work — and she’s offering the learning and coaching required for them to build this capability.

These leaders don’t frame employee sensibilities around flexibility and evolving workplace structures as challenges — but rather as opportunities for people to develop their careers.

The same is true when it comes to addressing the level of exhaustion, burnout and mental health challenges facing employees today. Employees’ desire for greater contentment at work offers a springboard for thoughtful leaders who are committed to the growth of others.

A significant portion of the workforce is willing to trade a paycheck for purpose. Leaders who recognize this can find countless projects that offer the sense of deep meaning and contribution many crave … right within the organization. And when constructed with an eye toward skills, experiences and connections to be built, these opportunities don’t just offer profound satisfaction, but also profound career development.

The same holds true for work-life balance. Sophisticated leaders recognize the counterintuitive growth potential associated with an employee stepping back from their work. When seen through a lens of learning, finding balance can also be an opportunity for thinking deeply about one’s work and where the greatest value lies, clarifying priorities, discovering time management strategies and perhaps mastering the fine art of delegation. With intention, even stepping back can become a career step forward.

“Change is inevitable; growth is optional,” according to the author, John Maxwell. Today’s corollary just might be that challenge is inevitable and growth is how leaders make the most of it for themselves, their organizations and the career development of those whom they lead.

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