Strong leaders are inevitably dedicated learners. They recognize that learning is a lifelong pursuit, one that far transcends formal education. But undergoing continuous personal learning is only half of the equation; competent leaders must also teach others what they have learned. Otherwise, it leaves them sitting atop a monument of their own making without any positive impact on the lives of others.
The challenge, then, is to take what we have learned and share it with our constituencies, increasing their competencies in their important tasks. This challenge applies to anyone who leads one or more people, including parents, teachers and executives.
Successful teaching leaders generally follow these nine steps:
- Determine competencies required for success. While some advantage is gained by an increase in general knowledge, it is usually more critical to understand the specific competencies required for success in your These are dictated by the positions and processes that are expected to deliver company outcomes.
- Develop a list of key principles and practices that will lead to the desired competencies. It is not yet important at this stage to teach these principles and practices, but rather to create a catalog of what will need to be taught to learners requiring specific competencies. Depending on the positon or process for which competencies are being developed, these principles might include critical knowledge, skills, behaviors, attitudes or values. One of the most famous lists of this nature is George Washington’s 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation. Desiring to gain the competencies of a gentleman, young George listed the principles by which he believed this would be achieved.
- Discover others who have applied those principles successfully and have mastered the competencies desired. This critical step establishes that the actions embodied in the principles taught will actually lead to desired competencies. It corroborates principles with real-life stories of others who have employed them. Washington, for instance, found his examples in the French Jesuits of the 16th Century. They stood as a model of courtesy and civility that gave George confidence in the efficacy of the principles and practices he had cataloged.
- Teach key principles and practices, along with the stories of those who have successfully applied them. At this stage, teaching begins. Engage learners in discussion of key principles and practices, and relate how others have developed desired competencies through their application. Make sure that learners can clearly see cause and effect, i.e., how acting on what they learn will result in desired competencies.
- Gain a commitment from learners to apply the principles they have learned in their own situations. In eliciting commitment, ensure that learners recognize that there are significant costs in creating the benefit of competency. They will typically be required to exercise a high degree of self-discipline in applying principles and practices in their lives. This may be in the form of study, intense work, and perhaps even financial investment. They must recognize that competency is worth the cost and such tuition will not be avoided.
- Make sure learners walk out the door of training sessions directly into an experience that requires them to use what they have learned. Knowledge without personal application has a rapid half-life. The laboratory of real experience will rapidly illuminate how well principles and practices have been learned—and what needs to be done to shore up any soft spots.
- Shortly after learners have had a relevant experience, conduct a review session with them. Assess how well (or poorly) their experience went. Re-address principles and practices in the context of those experiences. Don’t dodge any question or concern; the forge of real experience can create new insights that strengthen everyone’s understanding of competency development.
- Re-commit learners to the experience and review process. Work and rework the process of facilitating the learner’s real-life experience with key principles and practices. With the learner, continuously assess progress in competency development.
- Celebrate competencies achieved. In some circumstances, competencies may be measured by testing; in others, teaching leaders will simply recognize that learners have arrived. Either way, when competencies have been achieved, it is important to recognize achievement.
The best leaders in any endeavor understand that they must keep learning, and that they must share knowledge with their subordinates throughout that process. This nine-step roadmap can help any leader navigate the process of helping others become highly competent.
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.