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Leaders Make Better Teachers While they are Learning

July 13, 2020

By Randy Hall


I was working with a leader this week and as we began our scheduled conversation, he shared some thought with me about our last discussion.  He shared some of the notes he took and how he applied some of the insights that he had, and then he talked about two people on his team that he had coached based on some of the same questions we had worked through together. 

I felt great about the impact I was able to help him have but what was really important as well, was that he had already multiplied the impact of that work by helping others become more effective leaders as he was taking that journey himself.

Sometimes as leaders we get wrapped up in the learning because of what it means for us, what it means for our future, the difference we can make as a more effective leader, and our picture of what an amazing team we can build.  All of that is exciting, essential to our progress and so very much worth pursuing.  But I want us to also think about who we can teach, even as we are in the midst of learning ourselves. 

As we are building new pathways in our brain, making new mental connections and choices about how we want to interact with others differently to help them achieve more, we can also be helping others do that with us.

Too often we feel like we need to be an expert before we can teach, but the truth is, being a student is exactly the right time to help others.  We are still struggling, practicing, and figuring things out about a new set of behaviors.  Sometimes people can learn more by having a view into our learning, not just hear about it later after our mastery.  They don’t need to wait for a story about how we got there, it’s far more helpful for them to watch the movie in real time.

It also helps us not fall into the role of the “enlightened jerk” as a leader.  Sometimes we give the impression that “this was easy for me to learn,” and “I’ve been good at it forever,” and “let me tell you how to be good at it like me.”  No one wants to learn anything from us when we are like that.

Letting people be part of your learning, your figuring out, your struggle to master, your real challenges and missteps helps them see the path you climbed, not just gaze upon you standing atop the mountain.  That helps people believe they can make the trip too.  It looks so far away if you are already there. 

Sometimes taking them with us as we write the story is more effective, helpful, and real than just telling them the story later. It also means they get to be involved with the learning process much earlier and can make their own progress, make their own new choices, have their own new ideas long before we are finished with ours.

What’s also important is that as they are learning alongside you, they might just help someone around them begin that same process too.  Now we are building a team, an organization, a business or a community full of leaders that are learning, not people waiting for one of us to get to the top and tell us what it’s like so we can begin our climb too.  We get to build a team of people climbing, not standing at the bottom listening to a leader shout at them from the heights.

Learning as a leader is essential to our continuous improvement. For most of us, one of the real drivers of why we want to lead in the first place is because we get a bigger chance to help others as part of how we spend our life.  Don’t wait till you know or learn alone.  Lead as you learn and you will have more impact along the way.  That matters because the truth is that you never reach the top anyway, you just learn to enjoy the climb.  Leadership isn’t a destination at all.

Find something you want to get better at this week and do some work on it.  Then reach out to someone and share what’s working and what you are most challenged by as you tackle a new concept, idea, or leadership habit.  Get their thoughts on the topic and that will cause them to think about it more clearly as well.  That’s where real change begins; in our thoughts. And you just caused change for them and new ideas for them about a subject that you only know a tiny bit about.  Don’t make leadership wait for mastery, let it thrive during the learning too.

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