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Learning Tactics: Check, Apply, Lead

Updated: Apr 13

How do you learn?

You own your development as a professional, with more choices and paths than ever to build the capabilities that will move you forward.  With so many options, how do you make sure that the information that goes by your eyes and past your ears makes it IN and becomes useful, for yourself and others? 

Clicking in on that, how do you recognize and respond to the feelings that go with new content? Exciting inspiration and curiosity for more? Or that instinct that no matter how great it sounds, it just doesn’t resonate or wouldn’t fly in your world, for whatever reason? 

What about in the learning moment?  Is there enough time and space to critically process what’s been presented or do you have to catch what you can on the go and hope to remember enough to dig in later?

Triage the time and take more control over how new info becomes part of your curated and trusted skillset.  From first response to follow-up research,

Check-Apply-Lead is a quick and repeatable way to make learning minutes count for yourself and those you lead.

Step 1: Check your first reactions

Your instinctive reaction has a huge impact on retention and deserves a moment of acknowledgment. Does this new idea resonate with you and is it even worth more time? Professionally, we’ve gotten too used to the idea that if learning is not clicking, it’s us and not the content.  Respect yourself more and if this doesn’t work for you, give yourself the gift of time, having noted the exposure and why it was a hard no.  

How?  Use a straightforward and consistent set of criteria to rate your own response to the idea in context, and keep it simple.  

How strongly do you agree or disagree with the following statements?  The wording here helps clarify what “ick” or “ooh” really means right from the start.

  • This was accessible to me, I could onboard to the discussion and follow the thought process.

  • This was relatable to me, I identified with situations and could define personal examples.

  • This had a resonant tone, feeling familiar or welcoming to me as a professional.

  • This was relevant, applicable to situations I am facing or am aware of right now.

  • This feels consistent with my leadership style and interaction preferences.

Five key factors of connection, accessibility, relatability, resonance, relevance and consistency, all tested with a quick professional thumbs up or down, before you add a single additional note.

If you’re still in and want to capture what your brain did instinctively and what you could do with it, these three open-ended thought starters cover that ground:

  • These related topics came to mind in connection with this:

  • These elements are familiar or build on an existing area of my focus:

  • These elements are new or present renewed context (highlight for follow up):

Now you have the basics of what it was, how well it connected, and how you’d integrate it. 

If you feel like you’ve drained this content dry of what’s interesting at this point, that’s great and you’re done. 

But if there’s more here to work with, it’s time to see how you would apply the content where these ideas need to deliver value.

Apply for value in the real world

For most of us, professional development topics help us do one (or more) of three things:

They help us observe and diagnose better, collaborate and discuss better, or provide structure and deliver better.  How does this topic stack up?


  • Diagnosis: How can this set of ideas help me observe more clearly, reveal a bias or balance my perspective as I assess a situation? 

  • Discussion: How can this set of ideas add to the team’s constructive vocabulary? What key terms can shift our dialogue and what can that enable?

  • Delivery: How does this set of ideas provide structure, inform criteria or help illustrate examples of desired behavior, outputs, outcomes or benefits? 

A few bullets or a deeper dive, once you have defined how this content hits the road, you have already pulled enough from what you’re learning to build a helpful and engaging lunch-and-learn to share and cement your own learning.

But is there more?  Are there elements here that can elevate your leadership of others, magnifying its value even more?

Lead with a critical eye

We know not everything works well all the time, even on the best days.  So what about this topic?  Knowing when to use this, when not to, and what accountability to define will make these ideas even more actionable.

So ask the questions about limitations and applications as a leader.

  • In which of my contexts will this set of ideas work well and why?  What could it unlock?

  • In which of my contexts will this set of ideas NOT work well and why?  What could it harm?

From there, talk about expected outcomes and metrics.  What are you going to do differently, and how will you know it works?  That’s demonstrable value, our actual goal!

  • What observable data or events indicate when this is needed or useful?

  • What changes or benefits from using this set of ideas should I expect? 

  • What observable data or events indicate achieving benefits and delivering on the change?

Learning has value when it translates to movement, so to lock all this in, anchor the learning in your next steps of connection, action and deeper dives: 

  • Who do you want to talk to about this?

  • What tasks and actions have you identified as immediate opportunities?

  • What follow up reading, research or further learning do you want to pursue?

Learning works best when it has a solid landing.  Try this consistent framework to check, apply and lead with what you learn for your own growth and to benefit your teams.

Practice and application: 

  • Review the steps (download the template below).  How does this thought process compare to how you normally retain information from learning environments?

  • Consider the last training or webinar you experienced.  Just roughly considering a 1 to 5 scale, where 1 is less than 10% and 5 is over 95%:

  • How valuable did you find the content at the time?

  • How much content do you remember?

  • How much content have you applied?

  • How much content have you shared?

  • Capture what you do remember into the Check-Apply-Lead template.  By doing that, have you identified new actions and connections for follow-up?

  • Consider how you can incorporate the Check-Apply-Lead steps into your ongoing learning toolset.  

  • Consider how you can incorporate the Check-Apply-Lead steps into your team's shared learning activities.

  • Map activities and outcomes into your active roadmaps and backlogs.

(An initial completion of the items on this list can constitute approximately 45 minutes of application/practice of this concept.)

Maypop Check-Apply-Lead Template
Download PDF • 2.88MB

Deeper Dive: The power of the “off-ramp”

Taking permission to stop is not easy or simple without consistent criteria.  Identified “off-ramps,” defined points in a process where it’s logical to pause and make the decision to proceed or not, teach us how to stop well, taking full benefits from resources expended and freely moving on.  

Check-Apply-Lead provides those off-ramps by shifting learning purpose from total absorption to critical selection.  Starting with evaluation, not extraction, we take permission to not invest time where it’s not helpful.  First instincts say no? Confirm why and respect your own thought process.  

As a team? Build trust in your shared understanding of what’s important and valuable.  It’s a transferable skill that will pay off in prioritization and decision-making applications.  

If the new content IS resonating, we’re still being specific about why, and also tying it back immediately into what we’re already working on or curious about.

Applying new learning can also sometimes feel like holding a hammer and looking for a nail.  Instead, let’s define the use cases and see how this works in known need states.  Diagnose, Discuss, Deliver is a starting model that you can add to, on your own or as a team, driven by your development needs and how you want to meet them.  Seeing new learning in action, how it will walk in your world, proves value without abstraction.  If it doesn’t pass that test with enough clearance, it’s another respectable off-ramp with gratitude.

Leading change with new information requires situational awareness, so a simple off-ramp is whether this works for us, here.  We can decide if it’s useful enough to work a translation that will fit our operating norms, or if the distance is too far and we’ve gone as far as we can with it.  

Like any new thought process, what starts as deliberate becomes habit and then instinct.  Intentionally draining a learning experience may feel like overkill for the first few times you do it, but after a few experiences when you find the right off-ramp and take it, the shift in your role from obligated student to discerning learner will take over and you will not only spend less overall time taking in new content, you’ll gain much higher value from the time you do spend.

Taking that to the team, as a leader you can build the team’s capability in this by facilitating a group conversation or asynchronous collaboration through the same intentional learning flow.  Discussing as a team how an idea would or would not resonate with your “right here, right now” develops analytical, communication and ideation skills and mutual respect in reinforced doses.    Applying the off-ramp concept to other discussions, as an individual and as a team, also builds resilience and flexibility as a team, an essential attribute in 2024!

Learning Topics: Professional learning, leadership, skills development, training design, facilitation

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