We hear a lot about different communication styles, different leadership styles and different learning styles but the narrative we often hear is about defining your preferred style – identifying whether you are an analyser or manipulator, whether you are red or blue or yellow or affiliative or competitive… What we don’t hear a great deal about is the evidence adapting to your or your employees’ preferred style.
A few years ago, there was something of a sea change in education, when different sensory learning styles (visual, auditory and kinetic) were first widely identified and a corresponding emphasis was put on adapting to an individual learner’s sensory preference.
The theory goes that individuals have a preferred method of obtaining information – some prefer to listen to lectures, some take in information through visual means such as infographics or images, while some prefer to learn by just actually doing – perhaps by interactively moving through a series of options. It seemed logical that people would learn better and more easily if the information is made accessible to them in their preferred learning style.
However, in relatively recent years, further studies have shown that there isn’t a significant correlation between absorbing information and the information being relayed in the preferred learning style. There has even been some suggestion that people become better at taking knowledge onboard if they are exposed to a variety of learning styles, rather than constantly relying on their preferred method of getting information.
This interesting development has – or should have – significant bearing on your leadership style. After all, leadership style is effectively a term for the way in which your communication style tallies with the learning styles prevalent in your organisation. What the newer studies seem to suggest is that, for best results, rather than it being necessary for your leadership style to tally with the stated preference for learning or communication, members of your organisation will be perfectly able to absorb information regardless of the presentation method, it may even benefit learning if information is sometimes presented counter to the stated learning preferences.
The conclusion we seem to be able to draw from a number of these brain-based studies is that what matters is not adhering strictly to the leadership or communication style which you have identified as the most effective method for your organisation, but rather to be flexible. Employees across a business will have different learning preferences, the evidence suggests that accommodating a wide scope of those inclinations benefits all those involved, not just those whose learning preference or communication style is involved at any given moment.