Learning Leadership on the Fly – Part 3 of 3

By Tom Davidson

In this blog series, I’m discussing the need for new leaders to take personal ownership for their own leadership development. In this, the third post, I talk about teaching others.

In this blog series, we’re discussing the need for new leaders to take personal ownership for their own leadership development and what they can do about it. This is important because, 40 percent of newly appointed leaders will fail within their first 18 months, a statistic that you can’t afford and you don’t have to. Here are the three things you can do to take control of your learning:

• Volunteering
• Stretch Assignments
• Teaching Others

The first two blog posts in this series covered volunteering and stretch assignments; this one talks about the third, teaching others.

Teaching Others
It may seem counterintuitive, but teaching is one of the best methods of learning. Robert Heinlein is credited with saying, “When one teaches, two learn,” both the student and the teacher. Teaching someone else a skill or competency forces you – the teacher – to:

• Think more deeply about the subject, breaking it down more fully for the student and understanding the subject matter more fully
• Self-assess your own performance against what you are teaching and voluntarily close the gaps
• Stay ahead of the student, thereby staying in a lifelong learning mode and demonstrating that to others

Whatever your current role in your organization, you know things about your subject (and about leadership) that others need to develop. Through self-assessment, performance reviews, feedback and testing, you can identify one to three things that you already excel at doing. Start with those and build your confidence enough to get out of your comfort zone. Here are three ways you can do to learn more by helping others:

1. Teach a small group. Work with your manager to choose a subject, and set up an informal lunch ‘n learn session for your colleagues. You might also volunteer to co-facilitate a formal training session in your subject area or an area you want to learn more about, like team building, performance management or feedback. You could also go out into the community, teach a night class, a course at the community college or propose a seminar through your local parks and recreation department. Just preparing to teach a short course will accelerate your own skill in that area and look great on your resume, too!

2. Mentor. One of the most effective and underutilized learning techniques is mentoring, acting as a personal guide to someone less experienced in your area of expertise or benefiting from a personal mentor. By mentoring someone else, you are forced to reflect on what you know and how you learned it. By being mentored by someone else, you directly benefit from a mentor’s hard-won experience and put it to work much faster than you otherwise would have been able to do. For more information on mentoring, check out The Elements of Mentoring by W. Brad Johnson for the major skills and perspectives you’ll need in any mentoring relationship.

3. Write. The act of writing forces one to think more deeply about the subject they know or the subject they are studying. With all the digital tools available today, you don’t have to be professional writer to do this, and you can easily find a friend or editor to polish up your ideas for the consumption of others. For example, you can write articles for your organization’s newsletter, blog, start a personal journal, or provide a column to your local newspaper. Not only will you learn from the process of writing, you will build a leadership portfolio that few emerging leaders can present in their leadership interviews.

Whatever approach you take, one or all three, get busy teaching and you’ll get busy learning – to lead. It’s your job and your future as a leader, and nobody else will take responsibility for your development like you should.

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