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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Learn By Doing


When talking about leadership, Dick Davies said “leadership can not be taught – it can only be learned.” It caught me by surprise at the time, but has stayed with me as a fundamental in developing leaders. Learn by doing.

In my youth, I wanted to learn to play tennis and read several books about the basics, strategy, and techniques offered by the luminaries of the sport. When I got to the court I found that my tennis education was just beginning – you can not learn tennis from a book...you must 'DO' tennis on the court to learn to play.

This applies to leadership as well – books and stories help us understand aspects of leadership in a non-dynamic way. This is useful data – but is not usable information if we are not in a situation to apply it...let's call that the real world.

Leadership is learned by doing. The first step is to start with your own personal skills. Presidents Washington and Lincoln did not have a Dummies Guide to learn to be leaders – they taught themselves by developing their personal activities to
support accomplishment and results.

First lesson is – make commitments and keep them. This means you must remember what you have committed to and plan for the delivery as promised. “If it’s not written down, it doesn’t exist.”

Good beginning. How to you approach this task? Write on 3x5 cards each day what is UP – Pending – In Process. Or use your computer, smartphone, or sticky notes to record this information. Are you consistent in writing things down and have a system to assure delivering as promised?

Hopefully it's obvious that you would use your system for your professional commitments – but do you also include your social, family, community, and other commitments on the daily 3x5 system? Keeping commitments for a leader is not just for the day-time job.

When I learn something I like to tell someone what I've learned. Why? By articulating what I've discovered and the resulting benefits, I find it deepen the lesson – something about putting it into words and declaring it to another that makes it real and memorable. In addition, hearing it as a story is useful to the other person – they are exposed to the new-found information as well as the process used to obtain it. Sharing this experience is a gift.

Story goes, there were two woodsmen in the forest chopping down trees – a big strapping new woodsman and an older, seasoned woodsman. They started cutting first light and the young guy was chopping away with great vigor hour after hour, while the older guy would stop every half hour for a few minutes. As the day wore on the older woodsman's pile was getting higher than the young woodsman's – which drove the younger guy to chop faster and swing harder.

At the end of the day, the older woodsman had a huge pile of wood - the younger guy had a significantly smaller pile and was exhausted. Out of breath he said to the older guy – I've been working constantly all day, while you were always taking breaks, but in the end you chopped more wood than I did – HOW? The older woodsman said I sharpen my ax every so often – it cuts better that way.

Learn by doing. Communicate what you've learned to others on the team to help them know more and improve.

Sound like leading?

Do you have a story to share to help us learn more?

More about learning and leading and a tool for doing, communicating, learning:
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