!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Leaders as Teachers

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Leaders as Teachers

With good reason, much classroom training nowadays is led by facilitators rather than by teachers per se. The idea is that adult learners should generally direct their own learning as far as possible, and they should spend their training time as far as possible working on real issues and problems with a team of colleagues. The facilitator's role is to help with sharing of expertise, keeping discussions on track, and posing questions that get people to think more deeply.

Facilitators do, in fact, generally include periods of teaching in the flow of training, often to present concepts, to provide memorable examples of how to handle various situations, and to demonstrate techniques the training participants need to learn.

There is a type of more traditional teaching that organizations should provide on a regular basis. This is teaching done by the organization's leaders that is designed to pass along expertise and to reinforce internal messaging and branding.

In the November 2008 issue of Chief Learning Officer magazine, Michael Chavez and Gil McWilliam of Duke Corporate Education, and Sushanth Tharappan of the Infosys Leadership Institute, offer advice on how to optimize leaders' teaching. The article isn't as clearly written as it should be, but it's still worth perusing because it captures instructive details of several years' worth of experience with Unisys' "Leaders as Teachers" initiative.

The authors point to three reasons teaching by leaders is valuable:
  • It's a way of passing tacit knowledge along from senior experts to the rising generation of leaders.

  • What leaders have to say tends to get attention — "... bringing leaders to the forefront of the process of developing other leaders ... sends a powerful signal to the organization about the value of specific insights and the importance of the development process itself."

  • The Leaders as Teachers approach forges a productive alliance between the organization's learning and development professionals and top management.
Based on their experience with leaders teaching at Infosys, the authors offer five caveats:
  • Make sure that what the leaders teach is content making a specific contribution to achieving explicit learning goals.

    Content likely to fit the bill includes material that helps employees understand why and how to change their focus or priorities, that helps institutionalize use of new tools or knowledge that the leader doing the teaching has had a direct hand in producing, or that affords the leader an opportunity to solidify his or her own command of concepts, frameworks, and practices by explaining them to learners.

    In the latter case, the leader is also, in effect, acting as a champion of specific changes the organization is making in order to develop capabilities needed for executing its strategy.

  • Make sure the teacher uses techniques, such as posing stimulating questions, that involve the learners "in the creation of new meanings, in finding applications and examples and in stretching" everyone's imaginations.

  • Make sure a leader being considered for a teaching role is able to invest the necessary time "to work closely with internal learning and development professionals — and often outside consultants and educators — to build learning outcomes and design the content, refine the materials and design, and rehearse the delivery."

  • Use other training resources (i.e., not a leader) for the more basic portions of a training effort. Have the leader step in to teach how concepts already presented apply to company-specific situations.

  • Organize a cadre of teachers large enough to handle the number of sessions being scheduled. No one senior leader is going to have time to meet with more than a few groups. Note that it will probably be necessary to allocate time to train-the-trainer preparation.
In a sidebar to their article, the authors note that the actual content of the programs Infosys offers is selected
based on input from multiple listening mechanisms: a survey of high-potential leaders and their consolidated personal development plans; senior management performance reviews; and the opinions of business-enabling functions such as HR, corporate planning and quality.
To actually produce the content, Infosys uses a process that helps leaders "deconstruct their learning into teachable points of view," and then incorporates those POVs into an engaging training design.

To ensure the relevance of the content, Infosys:
  • Aligns the content to the company's leadership competency framework. Each session provides a "platform for illustrating or narrating examples of how leadership competencies actually play out at work."

  • Places great emphasis on debriefing — i.e., drawing lessons from the tales the leader tells about problems and dilemmas he/she has had to handle.

  • Encourages learners to approach their jobs with confidence. Unisys places strong focus on helping learners believe that, with diligent application of their enhanced skills and knowledge, they can achieve results comparable to those achieved by the leader doing the teaching.
You can read more about the Infosys approach to leadership development, including measurement of its impact, in a April 2008 interview with Girish G Vaidya, head of Infosys Leadership Institute.


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