Learning new things can be hard. Teaching can be even harder.

Teaching and leadership have a lot in common. A lot of times as a leader – or, for example, someone trying to teach leadership practices – it can feel like you are leading the horses to water, but no one’s drinking.

That’s because we, as learners, are using (or asking for) one of these techniques:

Spoon-feeding. It seems like the easiest and quickest way to get what you need. And often, it’s what people think they want: “just tell me exactly what to do and I’ll do exactly that.” It’s also usually the least effective. Picture a parent, spoon full of oatmeal in hand, imitating a jet, and cheerily saying, “here comes the airplane!” You can force the information in, but usually most of it ends up spit-out and spread all over their chin.

Connecting the Dots. A lot of well meaning managers want to make the task super clear and simple. So, we lay the path from Point A to Point B. It’s better than spoon-feeding; but, it’s really a more polite form of telling people what to do. It can be really useful when laying the foundations for how you want things to work. It’s a practice or exercise. It does not really push people to create the best solution – especially when facing a new or difficult challenge.

Practicing a Creative Mindset looks a lot more like leadership. With a creative mindset, you act like a teacher, providing the “scaffolding” that allows the whole team to think creatively to design and engineer the best solution. Creative mindset leaders can:

  • identify the tools, parameters, and accountability (articulate the goals)

  • find the resources and new information (learn new things, get help)

  • push past roadblocks (persevere).

  • combine all of this to get to the best solution.

Leaders don’t just make the light bulbs go off, they inspire people to understand why the light went on and why it’s needed. They get people to push past the difficult into new levels of success. They empower people throughout the organization – up, down and sideways on the chart – to work together for the best solutions. And, they are willing and able to go through the learning process all over again when the next challenge arises.

For a Deeper Dive:

Reflection questions:

  • When was the last time you were tempted to spoon feed someone information they needed? How did it go?

  • How could you reframe the task to “teach rather than tell?”

  • What distinguishes a manager from a leader?

  • What are you waiting for?