Global Forum on Action Learning, Leadership & Transformational Change pågår just nu i Stockholm. MiL Institute medverkar tillsammans med Volvo Cars med ett case. ”Leading transformation and learning in a complex organization - product development transformation 202020 in Volvo Cars R&D.”

Medverkan i konferensen är en del av Forskningsstiftelsens i MiLs satsning för att öka lärande kring långsiktiga effekter av verksamhetsintegrerade insatser baserade på ARL®.

Bilden är från seminariet som genomfördes av Ekkehard Schwartz, VCC R&D (t.h.) och Göran Alsén, MiL Institute (t.v.)  och Jonas Janebrant, MiL Institute.

Läs mer om Global Forum →


So life is complex... but does it have to be so complicated?

"An ever-higher rate of complexity and diversity at an ever-increasing speed…"
These are common, and current descriptions, in management literature, recounting the challenges organizations face, not only today, but also what they have been dealing with for the last 30 years. Does that mean that the participants in the upcoming MEC 54 (MiL’s Executive Leadership Programme) are facing the same challenges as their predecessors, the first participants, in 1978?

Yes and no, some struggles might be timeless, but studies show that, in the last 55 years, there has been a six-fold increase in complexity. Fine, it might not surprise me that business complexity is six times higher today. The frustrating part is that the same study shows that the rate of complicatedness – i.e. the amount of procedures, vertical layers and decision approvals – has increased 35 times during the same period!

In an attempt to deal with the uncertainty of complexity, we add layer upon layer of standardized procedures and detailed regulations, making decision-making processes heavy, complicated and slow.

And not only that, on a more discouraging note, the standardizations, regulations and the detailed “what to do and what not to do”-lists are also a consequence of a growing public distrust of managers and professionals (for example doctors and bankers). The assumption being that these professionals neither has the will, nor the skill, to act in the best interest of their organizations, of their employees or of society.

Recipe for disaster - or at least - mediocracy

The consequences of these detailed lists or cookbook recipes for management are according to American psychologist Barry Schwartz that “the important nuances of context are squeezed out. Better to minimize the number of rules, give up trying to cover every particular circumstance, and instead do more training to encourage skill at practical reasoning and intuition.”  Such training and practical reasoning that can be found for example in our leadership programmes building on Action Reflection Learning ®.

Reginald Revans, developed Action Learning in the 1950s in order to help managers “develop the capacity to carry the burden of decision making”. When I talked to Lennart Rohlin, the founder and former MD of MiL Institute last week, Lennart said something similar about Action Reflection Learning ® and MiL’s leadership programmes:

” the purpose is for you as a manager to get your own insights and experiences by having the time and room for reflection, thereby creating something that is more founded in yourself, a personal leadership theory, your own understanding and approach – the opposite of a cookbook recipe. There is no need for those when the knowledge of how to act, of what to do, is grounded in you yourself.”

ARL promotes practically wise organizations and managers

I would add that the power of Action Reflection Learning is that it helps you make use of your experience, help you get access to your tacit knowledge and your assumptions, encourage you to critically examine what you know (as a person and as a company representative) and challenge you to become more aware of your, and your organization’s, values. All in order to support practically wise organizations and managers. To quote Schwartz again: Wisdom is not something theoretical but highly practical: it is to know the right thing to do at the specific moment in the particular circumstances and then to actually do it.

Hence, we find the Action Reflection Learning ® approach, all the more important today. To navigate and to act as a manager in an even more complex environment, avoiding tempting recipes, you must trust that no theory (nor recipe) works better than the one you yourself experience, create and reflect over.

That is what we are aiming for to happen in our leadership programs - promoting practically wise organizations and managers that are able to navigate the business context of today and tomorrow, to stand grounded in the ever more global, complex, diverse, fast moving and uncertain life of organizations today.

Read ”The Story of Action Reflection Learning” by Lennart Rohlin to know more about the conception, and future work fields, of Action Reflection Learning.

Johanna Steen, MiL Institute


In April, we got a request from an Indian psychologist, Ruchika Mehra Jain, working at IILM, a private business school in New Delhi, wanting to come to Sweden to learn about Action Reflection Learning ® and how MiL Institute works with leadership development. The same day that the decision was made to have Ruchika with us during one month of internship, we were contacted by Times of India, the worlds largest English spoken newspaper, wanting to do an article on Action Reflection Learning ® and the advantages of using the ARL approach in an Indian Business context. Coincidence? Serendipity?

What to know when working with leadership development in India

On the eve of her return to India, Ruchika held a seminar at the MiL offices in Malmö, on ”What to know when working with leadership development in India”.

It was a lovely and intimate seminar with a clear and very present flavor of India - “Satya Mave Jayte”- brought both by Ruchikas sharing of cultural aspects of doing business with India, as well as by the participants’ sharing of interactions with India as a country and with team members of Indian origin.

Indian food, Bollywood and Cricket

A part from the very practical advice on three things that would get any Indian to open up and talk – Indian food, Bollywood and Cricket – Ruchika imparted with many useful insights into the everyday of Indian business culture. The three most salient features being:

    1. Business networking is crucial. You need personal friends in India, someone to introduce you to those that you want to meet and do business with.


    1. You need to know the organizational structure and the matrix in order to understand who is calling the shots.


    1. There is a widespread cultural understanding that you have to give first in order to get. Presents, hospitality – to show up at the airport, to offer food and share a meal together while inquiring about your family is a way for Indians to understand who you are and what values you stand for.

6 challenges when working with leadership development in India

During the seminar, Ruchika left us to reflect upon a number of stories illustrating possible challenges for those working with leadership development in India, some of which are listed below.

Challenge 1: Respect Thy Elder

As children we are taught not to argue, to respect our elders, to be obedient and to curb our feelings etc. We are trained not to voice our inner most feeling to our elders. They are the higher authority and you just have to follow what is being said to you on most occasions. Even though there would be a segment of the society, which might be exempt from this trend, that segment would be quite minuscule. This is socialized deep within the Indian society and we carry this to work. How we interact with our colleagues, our seniors and their seniors can be quite inhibiting in what we say or express in different situations or in difficult situations.

Challenge 2: If you fail, there are at least 10 people that can replace you

The life of a manager in India is quite challenging. Many experience a constant performance pressure.  There is no room for mistakes nor for ineffectiveness. There is a continuous threat of losing your job, as there are always 10 people who are standing outside the door ready to take your job. Under such a pressurizing situation, how does one maintain cool and give an effective performance?

Challenge 3: The toll on a society of 120 million citizens

We are 120 million citizens in India; there is a poor infrastructure, social security and health coverage. Every Indian works hard and wants to save up for rainy days. Having to keep a job becomes a necessity, more than a matter of choice. This may cause people to compromise their desires, likes and wishes. How to develop such people into professionals who would be enterprising, growing and leader-like…?

Challenge 4: Work life balance in an Indian context

“Work life balance” is a great concept and there is much training conducted on it in many Indian organizations, but the systems and the processes of the organizations do not support this. Being a service providing country, we have to be one to act as prompt as possible or else someone else will take the lead…
Many managers are taking their work stress home and this disturbs the family life… How do you see this as a leadership challenge for the future leaders of this country?

Challenge 5: Nepotism

India can be counted as a country producing many entrepreneurs… These have grown in magnitude with the growing economy.  These enterprises are individual driven organizations. All the decisions regarding growth, strategy and business developments are to be answered by the founder. Some of the businesses have also converted into family owned legacies. There is a high degree of nepotism prevalent in such enterprises. Many of such enterprises suffer as they lack the focus on developing leadership within the organization.

Challenge 6: High turnover and a reluctance to invest in talent

The Indian job market is quite competitive and offers a lot of opportunity but only to a few. One of the current challenges of the Indian market is to retain the talent within the organization. The average tenure of an employee at the organization is no more than 2-3 years. This tends to inhibit the organizations to invest and develop their talent with the growing threat of competition taking it away.

Action Reflection Learning and Indian Leadership Challenges

During her internship at MiL Institute, Ruchika met and sat down with many of MiL Institute's experts on Action Reflection Learning in order to understand our learning philosophy, how we work with leadership and business development and how it would play out in an Indian context. It was a lengthy process that brought many answers as well as new questions. Once the last months impressions and conversations are duly digested we look forward to learning more from Ruchika on how she, with her background and experience, would think of using ARL in her work. There is no doubt however that Action Reflection Learning has a lot to offer in the Indian context.

We want to thank Ruchika for a wonderful seminar and for coming to work with us this spring, with her insightful questions helping us understand more about the challenges and opportunities of an Action Reflection Learning approach in her home country.

Keep your eyes open for more news about Action Reflection Learning in India.

Johanna Steen, MiL Institute

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