The importance of continued development with WIG facilitator David Willis

David Willis, established coach and WIG development seminar facilitator, gave us his insights into the importance of continued  professional and personal development even in changing and adverse circumstances.  


What do you think are the main driving factors for people to continue professional and personal development during the pandemic? 

Any time of change brings opportunities. For quite a while now, most leaders and organisations have been talking about how best to lead through ‘VUCA’ (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity). We are certainly experiencing all of those with this pandemic. In 2010, Tony Alessandra & Michael O’Connor identified two qualities that successful people demonstrated in times of change: flexibility and versatility. Flexibility, they said, is an attitude – how open to change are you? Versatility is an ability – how capable are you of changing? So, flexibility is a mindset and versatility means you actively go out and learn new skills and behaviours. Those that embrace development at times like these tend to be the ones who thrive. Most employers are actively recruiting for flexibility and versatility. 

From your perspective, what impact has the lockdown had on professional and personal development? 

I don't think we are going to know the full answer to that question for several years to come. I suspect the biggest impact is that a lot of things that have been talked about for years have had to happen in a truly short time space. The Coronavirus has hastened change that was happening already. Learning and development has been moving steadily towards becoming ever more virtual for a long time now. As a company we have been “blending” our development programmes for 15 years. The lockdown has greatly accelerated that pace of change and in a few short weeks most of us have become used to interacting over a video link. This form of communication is here to stay. 

Also, because we are mostly working from home, there is an ever-greater blurring between the professional and personal. This will have a huge impact on professional and personal development, especially in the field of leadership. We are seeing more into colleagues’ lives, homes, and families as we peek over their shoulders during a Zoom call and watch their children wander into the room to pick something up. This is leading to a greater vulnerability and openness between colleagues and that is changing the way we communicate and will probably lead to a less formal, and more emotionally aware style of leadership. This isn’t really new, but it is certainly accelerating. After lockdown and the repercussions of the pandemic are over, not only will communicating virtually be part of what we look at, but the impacts of it will be seen in bringing more of yourself to work and the stories that leaders will share. 

What three main things should an individual be looking for in a new course or programme to assist with their professional and personal development? 

I can only answer this by saying what I look for when I go on courses! 

  • I want to know that the people who are delivering it are excellent at what they do, not just in terms of content but also delivery. I want to be engaged; I know that if I am not engaged, I do not learn. 

  • I want the group I am going through the programme with to be interesting and varied. The more stimulating and diverse the group is, the more I learn. 

  • For me, it must be practical, and I must be able to go out and practice what I learn and apply it in the real world. Although I love the theory, I learn by doing. 

I know you said three, but there is one more:¦ 

  • I want to enjoy myself and I want to be inspired. I believe strongly that learning should be fun, and it is when I am excited and inspired that I learn the most and the fastest. That is when I feel most open to take on challenges and try out new things. 

These are the principles that, with Roy, the Future Leaders Programmes & Organisational Raids Manager at WIG, we have implemented to build the Future Leaders Programme

What have been the key challenges in adjusting face-to-face facilitation into the online environment? 

There have been lots of practical challenges with technology and cutting material down to the right length so that delegates can take it on board, as it’s more difficult to hold focus in a virtual classroom. The biggest issue though is around “trust”. In many ways building a relationship with a group of people on a training course is like leading a team. It all comes down to trust and whether you believe the person in charge is a safe pair of hands. We do not make that judgement based on someone’s material or content. We make it in the side conversations, the water cooler chats, the micro conversations. In the virtual world these things are not immediately present and therefore genuine connection is harder.  I think this is one reason why many people have said to me that virtual is fine when they already know someone, but much more difficult if it is a first meeting or when it is the only way you meet them. 

The big challenge, I think, for facilitators is how to quickly build relationships and trust in the virtual world. Delivering information virtually is great, but getting people to really engage and develop themselves is where the challenge lies. To do that, you have to find ways of breaking through the screen. My business partner was originally a television news editor and she describes TV as a “cold medium”. That’s why you can watch something terrible on the news and continue to eat your supper. As a facilitator and as a leader, the skill is in 'warming-up' the screen. 

What benefits have you seen from adopting an online learning approach? 

There have been the benefits of less travel, working from home and of course my family have simply loved having me around more! However, if I can re-phrase the question slightly, the greatest benefit of having to adopt an online learning approach during the lockdown has been that it has forced us all into doing things differently. It is hard to change something when it is working well! Yes, you can tinker around the edges, making little tweaks here and there but basically you kind of end up doing the same thing. Adopting to online has forced change on all of us and made us re-imagine, in a very short space of time, not just how we work and how we deliver training but also what is going to be relevant and helpful in the working world now and post-COVID. That is exciting. Yes, it’s challenging and scary, but it has also been highly creative. Times of change always bring new opportunities 

Looking to the future, what aspects of personal and professional development do you think will be the most helpful, and hold an individual in good stead for the future place of work? 

This time is bringing about big changes in all aspects of our lives and personal/professional development is no different. Virtual learning will become more widespread. We are currently designing a Global leadership programme for one of our clients that previously had involved delegates jetting in from all over the world to attend modules, and now this programme is going to be entirely virtual with all the modules to be delivered via Zoom or Teams. However, the core ingredients remain the same because all leaders, at the end of the day, need to communicate effectively so that they engage people, motivate them, and make things happen. Now, they need to do it over more platforms. As things develop ever quicker, leaders need to be flexible and versatile. This is at the heart of WIG’s Future Leaders Programme, because by bringing people together from the different sectors it offers not just a wider perspective, but it also has a genuine purpose. Looking to the future, when more of our interactions are going to be online and virtual, when we do travel, and we do spend time in a room with other people, it will be precious. Therefore, we will be looking for something that is important, something that has a purpose and makes a difference in the world. I believe this means that the sort of development that will be successful will not be simply about how us as an individual can be a better leader. We will really be searching for things that inspire us to be a bigger person in the world. Something that will truly deliver ‘better business, better government, and better society’ for everyone. 


David is a facilitator on WIG’s Future Leaders Programme. He also runs a series of online development seminars for us, including Enhancing Personal Impact and Presence in the Virtual WorldManaging the Group Dynamics of Virtual Meetings and Maintaining High Quality Connections When Leading Virtual Teams.  

For more information about WIG leadership programmes and development seminars, please follow this link or contact the Leadership team