Laughter filled the funeral parlor for an hour. These are not words that would normally be constructed into a sentence. Yet they made perfect sense this August as we said farewell to Jonathan Kayes, the former chief learning officer of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and the CLO of The Masie Center.
Jonathan died at the young age of 53, having lived a long and interesting life. His role at the CIA included decades as an operations officer, serving covertly in many critical parts of the world. Then, in the last decade, he shifted to training and learning — becoming the first CLO of the CIA. Jonathan went from a secret life to a public one, including appearing on the cover of Chief Learning Officer magazine in December 2009.
I was asked by his wife, Karen, to speak at the funeral service — with the request from Jonathan that it not be a sad moment. So, along with his lifelong friend and fellow spy Tom, we designed an interactive “roast” for Jonathan — honoring his service to the nation and also his leadership in the learning field. The following lessons can be derived from what we learned putting together this service:
Don’t miss an opportunity to connect. Jonathan would have loved the mixture of people at his funeral service: spies, academics, CLOs, friends and family. And he would have wanted them to connect. So, halfway through the service, we had people get up, find someone new and share a “Jonathan story.” He felt one of his roles as a CLO was to constantly create an environment for new connections.
Measurement matters. Jonathan worked hard to align learning outcomes with business results. Level 1 evaluation was not his thing. He loved to tell people that the ultimate measure of his effectiveness in learning initiatives, and of the CIA itself, is how well its officers perform two tasks: recruit spies and steal secrets.
Never stop learning. While fluent in many languages with a strong background in Chinese, Jonathan never stopped learning. In fact, just a few years ago, he decided to get to high mastery in Mandarin. He proved that someone in his 50s could do a deep language immersion.
Use the wisdom of the crowds. Jonathan was proud that the CIA was using a wiki inside its firewall to create a collaborative space. He selected Moodle, an open-source LMS, for its learning system due to its collaborative and social learning structure.
Affordances are everything. One of Jonathan’s favorite phrases was “learning affordances.” He loved to take a look at a new technology and evaluate it for what it afforded or enabled learners or teachers to do for the first time. He championed the use of podcasts for language training.
Read this book. Jonathan never had a conversation that didn’t include the recommendation of a book to read. These books came from every corner of the library — from fiction to doctoral theses. He believed that one of the best gifts a CLO could give is another cool book to read.
Teach until the very last. Two weeks before he died, Jonathan was scheduled to co-teach a learning leadership seminar with me and former BBC CLO Nigel Paine at The Masie Center in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. He was quite ill and weakened, yet insisted that he come up and teach for three days. His nights were tough with fever and shakes, yet in the morning, he would be in class, leading discussions about learning strategy and CLO leadership.
When asked why he wanted to make the trip, Jonathan told us, “It is really important that I can be in a leadership classroom. I love listening, facilitating, coaching and making new connections.” The senior executives in that class, when informed of his passing, flooded us with notes about the beauty of that act — wanting to teach one more time and making it happen.
Jonathan Kayes will be remembered by our field for many things. He was a scholar, a reader, a mentor, a teacher and a wonderful example of what it means to be a chief learning officer — the leader, advocate and defender of learning in the organization.
But, most of all, he was a learner. Shalom, my good friend and colleague!
Jonathan’s memory book can be viewed online at masie.com/jonathan.
Elliott Masie is the chair and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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