Here's a great bit of insight I came across recently on Steve Wheeler's blog: “We Learn by Teaching.” Wheeler, a professor of learning technology at Plymouth University, reminded me of similar advice my father gave me about reading when I went off to college. His technique is a three-step process:
1. Skim it. When you first read something, skim through it to get the lay of the land. Look at headers, bolded words and phrases, italicized sentences, tables, etc. Read the chapter summary. Get a feel for what the chapter is about.
2. Read it to understand it. Read the same section again, only this time, take your time and read it so that you understand the material in the section.
3. Read it to memorize it: This is where you memorize new terms, key concepts, and other important information.
Of course, his lesson went right out the other ear at the time. But after I became a trainer, I came to embrace my dad's philosophy. In one of my first seminars, I was asked to conduct a class for aspiring stock brokers on stock options. While I knew a lot about stock options, I soon learned just how much harder teaching other people was than just understanding it myself.
But the more I taught about stock options, the better I came to understand them. So I added a fourth step in the learning technique:
4. Teach It: If you really want to understand a topic, teach it to others.
To Develop Leadership, Teach Leadership
So why not have more people — not just trainers — teach classes in your organization? It benefits everyone. For example, have senior managers teach leadership or management-development sessions. Have subject matter experts teach others (and create simple courses) about their area of expertise. An easy way to promote learning within your organization is to create a culture where people teach each other.
High-performing organizations often conduct leadership teaching sessions. According to a Bersin & Associates blog post, at aircraft manufacturer Textron, executives teach modules of senior level programs to other employees. At Telecommunications Systems Inc., executives actually have to apply to teach leadership programs. Former General Electric CEO Jack Welch conducts leadership sessions every couple weeks. Noted leadership author and University of Michigan business school professor Noel Tichy has shown plenty of research and written books on how effective leaders teach. In fact teaching is so important to leadership that Intel now requires its top personnel to teach leadership sessions.
If so many premier organizations require leaders to teach, shouldn't you start teaching leadership too?
Bill Cushard, Director of Training and Development at Allonhill, is a learning leader with more than 12 years of experience in training and performance improvement at companies such as E*TRADE Financial, Accenture, and Time Warner Cable.