Leadership Development’s Most Underused Tool

What is one of the most underutilized tools in leadership development? Teaching, writes Ana Maria Sencovici of The River Group: “For leaders who are deliberately practicing their leadership skills, teaching is the surest way of internalizing and applying those skills.”

I wholeheartedly agree. There is nothing like teaching to help you master a subject. Many think it’s simply a one-way endeavor, with the teacher imparting knowledge and the students receiving all the benefit. The truth is that teaching rewards the instructor as much as the students.

I’ve been teaching nearly my entire career, starting with my four-year stint as an instructor at the Naval Nuclear Power School. Teaching continuously improves my communication and leadership skills. It makes me think through the material in a new way, expanding my knowledge of the subject matter. It also helps me develop new and better relationships with all kinds of people. There is always more to learn and new perspectives to consider. My students often teach me more than I teach them.

As I wrote about recently, Kevin Spacey discovered this when he began instructing other actors. The act of teaching reminded him of lessons that he needed to reapply to his own craft. This reinforcement led him to vow never to be “out of touch” again.

Sencovici breaks down the value of teaching this way: “In order to teach something, leaders must extract new information, then process that information against existing mental models and previous experiences, and finally apply it in some successful manner. They must do this enough times, in enough circumstances, to gain the comfort to share it with others.”

The key is repetition. It’s one thing to sit in a classroom for a few hours or days learning about leadership. This one and done approach does not cut it. The best way to internalize the material, besides applying the lessons in a business context, is to teach it to others.

If you are in charge of leadership development, make sure you set up plenty of opportunities for employees to impart their knowledge to others. If you are working on your leadership skills, take advantage of every opportunity (and create some of your own) to teach. In her article, Sencovici lists a few ideas for teaching opportunities, including:

 Create informal chances for people to be able to easily create their own lunch-and-learns.

 Start a social or video channel where people can create their tutorials.

 Have a way of publicly identifying and encouraging experts in particular leadership skills whom others can go to for advice.

 In smaller settings, have leadership team members teach something they’re good at to the rest of the team.

These are easy to set up and yield untold benefits for all involved, at every level. Sencovici rightly concludes that setting up and taking advantage of these opportunities could be the highest return on your leadership development time and resources.

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