No More Leader Lectures

Friday, May 16, 2014

When leaders teach, they often imitate what they have experienced—they lecture. And what's one of the worst ways to transfer information and inspire others? Lecture.

Here's where partnership with learning professionals is critical. Learning professionals know how to draw out the key content from leaders and turn it into something from which others can learn. Yet there are some nuances when working with leader-teachers that make this interaction different from work with typical subject matter experts.

For starters, leader-teachers are typically “the boss” and have schedules that barely leave room for bathroom breaks. If you experience butterflies and other symptoms of angst when meeting with them, it can help to remember two things. First, while they may be the expert on the business, you are the expert on learning. Second, focus on helping them, rather than trying to impress. Then, be available when they are, even if it means a 5 a.m. coaching session. Beyond that, they are subject matter experts who look to you to help them "shine on stage" in front of their employees and peers, whether in a face-to-face or virtual session.

Here are three things you can do to help your leader-teachers shine.

  • Recommend an active teaching frame for the session.
  • Guide them to develop their Unique Leadership Perspective (ULP).
  • Provide visuals that will enhance recall for learners.

Active teaching frame 



A frame is simply a way of organizing a learning session. One simple frame is "a third, a third, a third." In this method, leader-teachers deliver essential content in the first third of the session. Encourage leader-teachers to use an active learning method to deliver this content, such as video or dialogue, or to keep this component no longer than 10 minutes. The second third is an activity through which participants apply the content. This part typically takes at least as long as the first part, if not longer. The final—and most important—third is the debrief, which is when participants share the outcome of their activity and leader-teachers provide positive and constructive feedback and reinforcement. Encourage leader-teachers to reserve plenty of time for the debrief because this is when their experience and wisdom can be best showcased.

Unique leadership perspective (ULP)

Real stories told by leaders about their own experiences and beliefs can keep participants highly engaged because we are wired to remember and learn from stories. Help leader-teachers to develop their unique leadership perspective (ULP)—a story about their own beliefs and experiences that models what they expect from their organizations and from themselves. Ask them questions that will draw out these formative experiences. A story will emerge that you can work with them to shape during the coming weeks. Here are a few questions to get you and your leader-teachers started:

  • What key lessons have you learned from your successes and failures in life or in your career?
  • What are your beliefs about... (business growth, innovation, disciplined execution, or teamwork, for example)?
  • What is the best advice you have ever received?
  • What legacy do you want to leave behind?

Visuals for recall

The common presentation slide set is full of text that is more of a trainer-script than a learner-aid. Free your leader-teachers from delivering a script by replacing text with visuals or fewer words. A good guideline is the six-by-six rule: each visual has no more than six lines and no more than six words per line. (A stretch goal is three-by-three!)

Another technique is to ask leader-teachers to create or use a single picture or model from which they believe they could talk for a long time. As leader-teachers form such models, they codify—both for themselves and others—what is needed to accomplish this task, skill, or process. Such visual models are typically more memorable and find their way back into the workplace where the learning can be put to good use.

Activate your leader-teachers so that they convey their wisdom, experience, and current strategies in a way that causes real change in the workplace.

Learn more from Leaders as Teachers Action Guide: Proven Approaches for Unlocking Success in Your Organizationavailable now.

About the Author

Ed Betof, EdD, is a leader, teacher, coach, mentor, and author. As president of Betof Associates, he does C-level executive and leadership team coaching. He also serves as executive coach for the Center for Creative Leadership and teaches for the Institute for Management Studies. In 2007, Ed retired as worldwide vice president of talent management and CLO at Becton, Dickinson and Company. In addition, he served for eight years as the program director for the Conference Board’s Talent and Organization Development Executive Council, and was a founding senior fellow and an academic director for the doctoral program designed to prepare chief learning officers at the University of Pennsylvania. Ed is the author or co-author of five books, including Leaders as Teachers: Unlock the Teaching Potential of Your Company’s Best and Brightest, Leaders as Teachers Action Guide, and Just Promoted!: A Twelve-Month Roadmap for Success in Your New Leadership Role. He is a frequent speaker on leadership and career topics and a former ATD Board member.

About the Author

Lisa M.D. Owens is a learning expert who applies learning sciences to create training programs that move businesses forward. She designs training for the in-person and virtual classrooms and the web. Lisa founded Training Design Strategies LLC in 2012 to help companies achieve their goals through the power of training. Beyond her current client work, she is an instructor for Ohio University’s instructional design graduate program and on GC-ASTD’s Executive Advisory Board. She is co-author of the college textbook Your Career: How to Make It Happen, the books Leaders as Teachers Action Guide and Lo start-up di una Corporate University, and a series of articles for CorpU on creating corporate universities. Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in education.

About the Author

Sue Todd is chief strategy officer at CorpU. She works with faculty at leading business schools, including Wharton, IESE, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and others, to adapt executive education programs to the practical needs of leaders. Sue has advised Global 2000 organizations on innovative learning and leadership development strategies since 1994. With more than 20 years experience, she has consulted with firms like Coca-Cola, Aetna, Exxon, The Boeing Company, HP, Pfizer, M&M Mars, and others to address the dynamic conditions of the 21st Century. Her current work focuses on complexity science, and how it reveals cracks in current organizational structures and practices under increasing marketplace dynamism. She is identifying approaches that can prepare leaders to embrace emergence and guide organization adaptability. Prior to joining CorpU, Sue was VP of product management for KnowledgePlanet, where she directed the evolution of the first web-based learning management system, the first business-to-business eLearning marketplace and technology-based performance management solutions. She helped both media and industry analysts shape the LMS and e-learning industries. Sue has been interviewed by  The Wall Street JournalFortune MagazineUSA TodayThe New York TimesGreentree Gazette, Workforce Week, and other HR and learning industry publications. She has published articles in  Leadership Excellence, CLOTraining and  T&D Magazines. Sue has spoken at New York University, Bellvue University, ASTD ICE, Tuskegee University, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. And for two years, in 2006 and 2007, she ran Training Director’s Forum on behalf of Training Magazine.

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