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Accelerating Leadership Development Using the ACE Model

Over the last three decades, I have taught over a thousand graduate students over the years and have coached more than a hundred clients. What I have learned is that graduate programs and coaching by themselves are not the best models. The best model is the combination of:

  • Academic learning

  • Coaching

  • Experience in the field

Let me say this in a different way. Academic learning is accelerated when combined with coaching and experience. Coaching is accelerated when combined with academic learning and experience. Experience is accelerated when combined with academic learning and experience.

Let’s drill down on each of these three elements.

First, let’s look at academic learning. When you add intellectual frameworks to your toolbox, you are better able to serve and lead. For example, the framework of SWOT analysis helps us to better understand organizations. SWOT analysis looks at an organization’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. Another example would be Stephen Covey’s four quadrants on time management which include: Important and urgent, important and not urgent, urgent and not important, and lastly, not urgent and not important. When you learn these concepts and frameworks, you are better able to understand the world around you.

The problem with academic learning is that the benefits are often lost if the learning is not appropriately applied and experienced. Here is where coaching and experience can help to accelerate learning, growth, and development.

If I am coaching Sue, who is getting her master’s in organizational leadership, we can discuss the several frameworks that she is learning. I can then ask her which framework she thinks would be most helpful for her and her organization at this time. Once she focuses on a specific framework that would be most helpful, we can turn to experience. Coaches can help their coachees to leverage their academic learning through field experience. I could ask Sue how she could move her work forward using the framework she has learned.

NOTE: Academic learning doesn’t have to happen in a classroom. Academic learning can also happen through reading, podcasts, and YouTube videos. I read Harvard Business Review each month and listen to their podcast, which is called IdeaCast. I also regularly watch some of LinkedIn Learning’s 10,000 video courses.

Second, let’s talk about coaching. Coaching is a powerful approach for helping people in their development. The problem with coaching is that it not a good platform for academic learning. Doing academic learning through coaching can be slow and expensive. What I like to do with my coaching clients is to give them academic learning assignments that they can do alone or in their classes. When they have finished engaging in that academic learning, they can come back and discuss how they can put that learning to use through field experience.

Third, let’s talk about experience in the field. Academic learning and coaching can both be powerful methodologies for growth and development. To leverage learning and coaching even further, you need experience in the field. If you have watched either Top Gun movie, you will see both have classroom learning, and coaching. They further leverage this by giving these pilots experience in the field. Some things can only be learned by doing.

In summary, academic learning helps people to get their minds around important topics. Coaching helps to maximize the benefits of both learning and experience.

As you look forward in your own development this next year, how can you combine:

  • Academic Learning

  • Coaching

  • Experience in the Field

If you have any questions on this, feel free to contact us at ClarionStrategy ( as we seek to build your strategic capacity and that of your team.


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