Leaders are learners. We hear it all the time, and it makes sense. Continuous learning is the only way to keep pace with the challenges constantly confronting organizations. Only those leaders who are committed to expanding their understanding and skills will be prepared to address:
- Changing business conditions, competitive pressures, and disruption from new and evolving sources.
- Shifting employee demographics, expectations and needs.
- Innovation and the application of new technologies and methodologies.
Leaders who are committed to learning appreciate that the half-life of critical skills is shrinking quickly. They appreciate and take advantage of the nearly infinite resources for growth and development – including books, articles, conferences, on-demand resources, YouTube videos and podcasts.
And yet, there is one vehicle that’s frequently overlooked – even by leaders deeply committed to learning. It’s teaching. Leaders can turbo-charge their learning when they are placed in a teaching role.
Teaching is the highest form of learning, opening the door to profound insights and a comprehensive understanding that cannot otherwise be activated. When leaders make the commitment to assuming a teaching role, it can be assumed that the additional study and preparation will yield greater fluency in the topic. But that’s just the tip of the arrow. Teaching puts leaders face-to-face with conditions that enable them to learn so much more.
Reality – Through teaching, leaders get to confront the challenges facing their people. It’s easy to become distanced from the day-to-day existence of employees. But when leaders step into teaching roles, they quickly learn the recurring issues of their workforce. Working through the how-tos of any topic offers an opportunity for employees to share the barriers associated with what’s expected of them. And this kind of reality check allows leaders to gain greater perspective.
Behavior change – How frequently do leaders expect the learning and development (L&D) function to work miracles? Put leaders in a teaching role, and they quickly begin to appreciate the complexity of skill building and professional development. They discover the importance of overcoming resistance and helping others unlearn what no longer serves them. They experience firsthand the time and effort required to instill new behaviors. They also learn how to better support development and become better allies for future change initiatives.
Communication – Leaders improve their communication by teaching. Through real-time feedback, they hone their ability to frame a message that resonates with others. And they begin to recognize the number of times a message must be delivered before it finally sinks in, helping them better support learning and day-to-day performance.
Congruence – When cast in a teaching role, leaders quickly discover the significance of their actions. “Do as I say, not as I do” simply doesn’t fly with today’s employees. If a leader instructs others in a particular way of accomplishing a task, the expectation is that he or she will perform the same way. Disconnects or messages that undermine it are typically met with pushback. Consistency between words and action is key, making teaching one of the most powerful support and sustainment strategies available to L&D professionals.
The act of teaching also helps leaders develop important facilitation, listening and questioning skills that serve them both inside and outside of the classroom. Leaders come face-to-face with the wildly different experiences, perspectives, preferences and approaches of their people, helping them embrace and leverage diversity. And they develop an appreciation for the messiness of learning and the power of trust in creating an environment that encourages the risk-taking required for growth and development.
So, if you’re looking for a powerful leadership development strategy – that can also extend the reach of your L&D team – invite leaders to teach, and let the learning begin.