Leaders Don’t Teach, They Create Understanding


Growing up I has some amazing teachers that helped me pass all the tests that a high school graduate is/was supposed to pass. These folks cared greatly about my learning and it showed in their efforts. After a failed attempt at college, I joined the military and again was taught what I needed to “know” to pass tests that allegedly measured my knowledge of military history, the UCMJ, and a number of other things that I have long forgotten. It wasn’t until after the military and when back in college that I realized the limited value of “learning” hence the title of my post, “Leaders Don’t Teach, They Create Understanding.”

The chasm between learning and developing understanding is significant, but all too often overlooked. This next statement is likely to cost me some future business, but so be it! Leaders spend far too much of their time “teaching” employees, as a coach I end up getting paid to turn that learning into “understanding.” Unfortunately, most leaders grow leaders around them the same way they were grown and that is through “teaching.” The “understanding” ends up being a “light bulb” moment when something learned suddenly makes sense in the bigger context. It might be that the leader taught their employee a new process, skill, or technique and through the normal course of learning the employee is soon able to demonstrate what they have learned. The employee then applies the learning day in and day out until a new way is devised. Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

Now let’s imagine that instead of focusing only on teaching the new skill, the leader also works to help the employee see how the action fits into the bigger picture, or how the employee’s actions can impact the overall business. Or imagine if the leader teaches and then gives the employee the all-important “why” – the “why what you are doing is important.” The why isn’t just the reason an employee does what they do, it’s the consistent reminder that keeps them grounded and focused, and in many cases energized. The “why” turns the learning into understanding and it is the leader’s job to ensure that happens.

So the next time you stop to “teach” an employee something, take one additional minute and give them the why and create the understanding!  It’s really pretty simple, but rarely easy!

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