Skip to Content

LEADERSHIP: Building the Teaching Competency of Your Leaders

deb stairs 2v2Several weeks ago I was asked to speak to a group of HR professionals on strategies for future leaders.  One of the strategies that I highlighted was the need to build the teaching competency of leaders.  Most of us are familiar with building a learning organization, but we rarely talk about building a teaching organization.  How capable are our leaders in knowing how to teach others?  How many leaders do you know who have been taught or trained in how to teach others, including knowledge of adult learning theory, learning styles, the four approaches to teaching and how to evaluate whether the learner has actually learned?  Most managers don’t even see themselves as creating “teaching moments” for their staffs.  They may create “telling moments,” but what about actively seeing themselves as teachers?

Malcolm Knowles is considered the Father of Adult Learning, and he emphasized some key principles when teaching adults – what he called “andragogy:”  adults need to be valued for the experience they already have; they welcome insight into themselves as much as learning a process;  the learning needs to be relevant and practical and the environment collaborative and engaging.  Let’s say a leader is sharing information on a new product introduction.  Does he or she think about Knowles’ principles and modify his/her approach accordingly? 

 3 Types of Learners
About 30-50% of adults are kinesthetic learners (learn by doing), 20-30% are auditory learners (learn by hearing) and 30-40% are visual learners (learn by seeing).  In addition, some people are experiential and prefer to learn by “experiencing and doing” or “watching and doing.”  Others are analytical learners and process information best by “thinking and doing” or “watching and thinking.”  If not aware of the four options, leaders will simply teach as they prefer and make no adaptation for the different learners. How would knowledge of this type of information change the approach a manager might use to communicate information to staff?  There’s a world of difference between the doers and the watchers, isn’t there?  Statistics suggest that most organization communication is designed to appeal to the analytical learner (watch and think). 

4 Approaches to Teaching Others
Most leaders also don’t know much about the four approaches available for teaching others.  There’s the classical approach that presents material predominantly through lecture and discussion.  The second approach is called mastery and is typically used in scientific and manufacturing settings with a very structured job instruction method (repeat the process 3 times using key steps, key points and key reasons).  The third technique is called the discovery approach which throws the learner into the middle of a problem to figure out how to proceed.  The last approach is often used in combination with the first three and is called the laboratory approach, which includes hands-on exercises or lab experiment.  Are managers aware of the options when teaching others and careful to “mix things up” to make it interesting?

4 Levels of Evaluation When Teaching Others
In 1959
Donald Kirkpatrick introduced the four levels of evaluation when teaching others:  the first level is the smile sheet we often complete when training is over; the second is an evaluation of whether the learner has learned in the teaching session.  The third level of evaluation is whether the learner can apply what has been learned back on the job.  And the fourth level is the value of the learning six months to years beyond and its effect on the organization’s success.  If you asked your managers today how they are evaluating whether their staffs have learned, would they be able to answer having applied one of Kirkpatrick’s levels?

 The New Frontier for Leaders
I really believe one of the new frontiers in organizations will be the ability of our leaders (managers, supervisors, etc.) and subject matter experts to engage and teach people on an ongoing basis as the need arises, rather than the isolated events we so often see in training sessions.  Managers must be on the look-out for teaching moments – whether to convey vision and values or how to launch a project.  They must be able to adapt their approach to the style that will work for the learner, and in large audiences combine a bit of everything.  It’s not enough to be a learning organization.  We need to promote – through train-the-trainer programs – the value of also being a teaching organization.  I believe every leader must know how to teach others – and do it effectively and with proven results.



Next Week on NDCBLOGGER: New ArticleMillennial Paper Graphic

Millennials – Engage, Motivate, and Retain the New Workforce 

 – How Managers Can Flex to the Needs of the Millennials Without Giving Away the Keys -




If you liked this, you may want to read these:
• The Blueprint for ‘Ah Ha’ Training
• Exploring the Role of Coaches and Mentors in the Workplace

Who We Are

An innovative training and employee development firm located in southern Vermont since 1984, we specialize in helping organizations get the most out of their people by raising the bar, inspiring potential and partnering with organizations to build a people-centered, high-engagement culture.

Our Twitter Feed