Today’s Lesson: To be an effective teacher, you must first be an effective learner.
As a trainer, I believe there is tremendous value in learning and experiencing the thing I am expected to teach. I see many coaches or organizational trainers who think they can enter a business blind and somehow magically command respect and disseminate knowledge.
Before I could teach people how to sell, I had to learn how to sell and experience both rejection and success in that field. I had to become at least marginally proficient at sales (I happen to be better than marginally proficient at sales but that was all I needed to be an effective trainer). It is important to note I did not have to learn to be the best salesperson in the world. If I had learned that, then I would have gone into sales and made a great deal of money as the world’s best salesperson instead of working to help salespeople become better salespeople.
Many trainees have the opposite folly of their trainers–they believe the trainer should be better than anyone else at the skill being taught. That is illogical. If Michael Jordan’s coach was better than Michael Jordan at basketball, for example, then his coach would be on the court enjoying Jordan’s fortune and fame instead of Michael Jordan. The coach’s (or trainer’s) job is not to be better than the people they are teaching. The coach’s job is to find the holes in the game and help the team overcome obstacles as they arise.
Trainers provide the skills we need to improve but to do that, trainers must also learn the basics to earn credibility.
I was reminded of this in a meeting. The person formerly in charge of a team had been recently let go and one of the main reasons why, it turned out, was because he did not understand the duties and responsibilities of the people he was in charge of. He had not gone out into the field and learned or experienced their day-to-day environment and challenges. How could he ever have led them?
One of my first duties, by contrast, was to meet as many team members as possible and spend as much time learning the company’s products, history, and team member roles as I could. In fact, most employees who chatted with me seemed surprised that I could speak to the company’s roots and history better than many of them could, even though they had been with the company longer.
In the meeting, someone pointed out how refreshing it was to hear that I wanted to travel to wherever the teams were and learn what they did. “How can I train them,” I asked, “If I have no idea what they do or how they do it?”