Kimberly Kleiman-Lee is founder and CEO of Kimberly Kleiman-Lee & Co., a leadership development and training company headquartered in Wisconsin. For more than 20 years prior to launching her own company, she played a leading role at GE’s world-renowned training university. In her recent Training Unleashed Podcast with host Evan Hackel, Kimberly gave deep insights into the role experiential learning can play in developing extraordinary training.

We know these insights will transform your training. You’ll want to devote 30 minutes of your busy day to watching this great podcast. Here are some selected highlights.

On General Electric’s Belief in Training

Evan: General Electric’s university is one of the best corporate universities in the world . . . . I think it would be fascinating to talk about the culture at GE around training and why it was so important.

Kimberly Kleiman-Lee: Well, thanks, first of all, for having me on your podcast, Evan, it’s a pleasure to spend time with you. And you’re right. GE’s culture around learning and development was, bar none, top of its game. So let me share a couple of things about their culture regarding learning and development.

First is they believe in a leader in every chair, and the goal is to make sure that no matter what your role is, you have a responsibility to lead in it and make sure that everything you do comes from a place of betterment, moving the company forward and helping lift your colleagues up to a better place.

Second, they feel a true responsibility to make sure that leaders have the skills they need to do well, no matter where they are in their career journey. So they invest in it.

At one point, we calculated that GE was investing more than $1 billion in functional and leadership training. So training comes at every phase, every stage and every need in a leader’s journey . . . they believed not only in the concept of leadership, learning and development, but having a place for leaders to gather to do that great work.

On the Practice of Experiential Learning

Evan: I want to talk about experiential learning. I’m a big believer in it . . .. I know GE does it really well, and I know that your company does too. What does it mean when you say the words experiential training?

Kimberly Kleiman-Lee: Experiential learning means you put the learner in the center of the skill or behavior you’re trying to get them to adopt. So it’s less telling, more doing, and more feeling of being in the things you want them to learn . . .   

So if you want them to be more compassionate and empathetic to their customer, you need to put them into a situation that that helps them to adopt that. If you want them to understand what it means to be a servant leader, you need to have them serve, literally serve . . .  So it’s putting them in the center of the behavior or skill you want them to adopt.

On Training People to Become Servant Leaders

Evan: I love the concept of servant leadership, I’m a big believer. Why don’t you just take a moment and describe how that would work? What would that look like?

Kimberly Kleiman-Lee: If servant leadership or just a concept of serving is something that the company or culture wants to ensure their leaders are astute at, we would thread a component like that throughout a learning opportunity. It might not be the core focus, but it would be something that is experienced throughout a three-day workshop. Here are ways to do that.

One, I’m a big fan of leaders doing tours. Again, I work with more middle leadership and above. Oftentimes, by the time you get to be a senior leader, you are being served. So someone makes the reservation for you. Someone has the table set for you. Someone has the meeting coordinated for you. The plane is reserved for you. All of those sorts of things are done for you.

So to switch it up a bit, we have what I call the equivalent of tours. If I’m hosting a senior leadership team for a three-day workshop, I ensure that one of those days is reserved for lunch on-site and it’s catered. And the only thing that is done for them is the food is delivered to the site. They will each have a task that been assigned to them, written on the back of their nametag, which they won’t know about until they’re told to turn over their nametag. And it could be everything from set the table, serve water to your colleagues, clear the table, you name it, and it’s just a touch of, “Are you willing to do what it takes to make those around you comfortable?

Evan: Well, first, let me compliment you because one of my fears was that every example you were going to give was going to be so big and so difficult.

Kim: Absolutely . . . it doesn’t need to be big and grandiose. Being ready at hand means when you’re in a meeting and you see somebody struggling with the projector, if you know how to fix that, it doesn’t matter your level, your role, your responsibility in that meeting. What matters is that you help keep progress moving. And oftentimes, folks forget that that is, in essence, a big part of servant leadership.

Lecturing vs. Changing Behaviors

Evan: I know you do some really interesting offsite training. Can you tell how that works and what that kind of experience is like?

Kimberly Kleiman-Lee: It started actually when I was at GE . . . . when I first started, a lot of what we did was lecture-based, especially for the senior leadership group. We wanted to transmit knowledge, expose them to new and different ways of leading and strategizing and again, exposure to businesses.

All of that is terrific. But what we found was that it didn’t change behavior as much as we wanted. So after observing a couple of those classes, I thought, “I wonder if there’s a way to get the same lesson, but with a different approach?”

So we ended up letting a lot of our academic partners go for a while and said, I think we’re going to try this without the lecture and if anything, get to the point where there were no more than 30-minute lectures for any new content. And then the rest would be experiences where trainees would have to apply the learning.

So as we started down that road, we found that there were different ways to explain leadership by using metaphors for it. So, for example, I do a lot of work with my clients right now with horses. Horses are the second most intuitive beings and they are a terrific way to see your leadership loud and clear. We would bring leaders together with horses at a horse farm or barn or rodeo space. We’ve done it a number of different locations. We work with terrific gal who leads all of this learning. She will put you inside a stable with the horse, and she’ll say, “Have the horse do something you want it to do.”

Typical leadership behavior, right? So folks will stall for a while and then you’ll see them do a bunch of things. You’ll see them try to pull on the reins. Or talk nicely to the horse in English and try to explain what they want the horse to do. Some people will dangerously try to push from behind to get the horse to move.

And the gal that we partner with, says, “Look, the horse desperately wants to follow you. She just doesn’t necessarily know what you want her to do.” And then that, in essence, opens up the whole the whole dialog around the question of, how are you as a leader of people? Do they desperately want to follow you? They just don’t know exactly what you want them to do.

So that would just be one example of experiential  learning. We have taken folks to Normandy and studied World War Two, specifically communication and chaos theory around the questions of, “What do you do? How do you lead when your leader is not there? How do you step into that role?”

We’ve taken people to Silicon Valley to help them understand entrepreneurialism, design, thinking, being customer-centric and human-centered design. We’ve taken folks to Gettysburg to understand leadership through the eyes of Abraham Lincoln and some of the change management that he had to handle in a very unsophisticated way to make a huge difference. So . . . taking people to a destination. And your office could be the destination. Having them experience something is one of the best ways to learn.

A Special Offer from Kimberly Kleiman-Lee

Kimberly would like to make a special offer to all members of the Training Unleashed podcast community.

You are invited to visit and to sign up for Kim’s remarkable Manage Time in 10 program. In it, you will learn impactful strategies for making the most of your time.

About Our Guest

Kimberly Kleiman-Lee led General Electric’s Leadership Learning & Development strategy and solutions at GE Crotonville. For seven years, her intuitional and methodical approach to individual and team development earned her the respect of leaders throughout GE. As a player-coach serving 330,000 employees, her individual work was focused on GE’s top 2500 leaders – teaching, coaching, provoking, and inspiring change.

Kimberly knows that humans are the most interesting part of work. She attributes any career success to her insatiable curiosity and voracious desire to learn about humans at work and in groups. She’s a pattern studier and tirelessly seeks innovative ways to develop leaders to thrive. 

She, like others, thinks the world is in the midst of a leadership crisis. Kimberly launched her consultancy to prepare more leaders for the world.