A number of the list serves and discussion boards I visit at the moment are asking, “can x or y be taught?” This is a pretty fascinating conversation as it truly depends on what one means by “teach” so here are my thoughts on the matter.
I have been helping leaders develop for 20 years and yet it was only a couple of years ago that I had an epiphany. My work has meant that I have approached leadership from both a practical vocational and theoretical academic perspective and I had kept the techniques I used separate. My ah-ha came while reading an article by Daniel Goleman about teaching Emotional Intelligence, in which he suggested that you do not develop emotionally intelligent people by lecturing them.
Leadership ultimately is more about deeds than knowledge although the actions are hopefully the result of an understanding of best practice. With this thought in my mind I completely rewrote a college course I was teaching. In previous semesters I had taught as the Course Curriculum Guide suggested and it was dry, with an emphasis on reading and tests. This time round I split our week with one session covering theory and the other teaching the students to coach each other. During their coaching days, they came in prepared to discuss what they wanted to develop in their own leadership. They set goals and kept each other accountable and they changed practices based on these goals and reviewed the results together.
So what did I learn? Developing leaders requires a mixture of teaching concepts to increase understanding; this is best done using an experiential education model. Using this newly found understanding, leaders have to experiment with behaviors and actions and to do this they need someone along for the ride. Someone who will help them set goals, someone who will challenge them, someone who will nurture them. I believe that a coach is great for doing this, ultimately though rather than giving out fish it is better to teach people how to use a pole and teaching peer coaching is one of the most under utilized resources I see at the moment.
That college class taught me a great deal because the results were so incredible. Watching Ben uncover barriers to building healthy climbing relationships, and realizing they were both self placed and a metaphor for the world of work was magical. Seeing Yvan recognize the power and lessons in other peoples’ words and starting to chose to read and making time for it was extremely gratifying. These are just two small testaments to a way of teaching leadership that creates real results.