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Sunday, 20 May 2012

Do You Want to Learn? Then Be a Great Teacher!

There is an ancient Kabbalistic and also Zen Buddhist maxim which has great resonance today:

“When the student is ready, the teacher appears”

These days, without even realising it, we are all in a constant learning mode and the impact of the availability of information through online search engines has had truly dramatic results.

However, the question must be asked: when does the generation of information and hence knowledge transform into a learning experience?  For example, does it just add to our immediate stock of knowledge that goes into our internal database to be recalled (hopefully) at a later stage?

There is a difference between that and a genuine learning experience which is broader, deeper and requires significant thought and input rather than merely absorption.

It has been said that no-one can teach but everyone can learn.  That is possibly an overstatement to emphasise the point, but there is a good deal of truth in the saying.

I have said before that one of the major functions of the leader is that of coach to the team; to be able to add value to the learning experience of the individual and so enhance it.

Any business which has any level of dynamism must, almost by definition, be a learning business and that learning process is a constant.  Please note, it is not finite but is a process which is continuous.

I recall the story, perhaps apocryphal but useful nonetheless, of the individual who committed such a major error that the company lost something of the order of $500m.  He decided to offer his resignation which was immediately refused by his CEO who said:

“This has just cost us $500m and you know everything about it.  You are the only person who can put it right and learn why it happened and how we can prevent it happening again in the future”

If it is true then it is a remarkable example of positive leadership; coaching someone to expand their learning experience and so to bring greater value to the business and to the individual.

And that is the key in the end.  Learning is very personal and needs to be encouraged and developed by an understanding “teacher”.  Given the right environment and the right student, the whole learning experience can be enhanced.  It cannot be achieved by a top down, “this is how to do it”, approach.

The great leaders are great teachers and great team members want to learn.   And remember that the process of teaching is the best way to learn.

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