Orrin Woodward LIFE Leadership Team

Winner of the 2011 Independent Association of Business Top Leader Award; Orrin Woodward shares his leadership secrets.

Creating a Learning Organization – Teachable Moments

Posted by Orrin Woodward on January 11, 2011

“Teachable Moments” are one of the quickest ways to create a learning organization, helping the entire team to learn from the many mistakes on the journey to excellence.  The attitude of learning organizations is, if we are going to make mistakes anyway, let’s go ahead and learn from them.  Learning organizations improve daily without playing the blame game or passing the buck. Only someone with significant results in the organization ought to apply the “Teachable Moment” process.  This is not a process for the blind to lead the blind, but one where leaders help others improve.  In other words, until one has performed, displaying by personal results that one is further down the leadership road, should the “teachable moments” process be employed.  A good rule of conduct, for students on their way to learning leadership, is to speak all the good that you can, never criticizing, condemning, or complaining to anyone.  The leader must have the respect of his team before the “teachable moments” process will produce the desired results.  With these caveats, let me share the eights steps for turning mistakes into “teachable moments”.  

1. Lead in personal change – model change before speaking to others about change.
2. Sit down with the person & express why you value them on the team.
3. Share the common vision of the change process to reach team goals.
4. Explain the changes needed for both of you to reach the team goals.
5. Point out areas where you have and are still changing and growing.
6. Point out areas where they have changed and grown in the past.
7. Unite around the common vision of how team will look after changes.
8. Lead by serving, asking, “How can I help you in this change process?”

The first step, is to lead in personal change first.  Never ask someone to change in an area that you are unwilling to change yourself.  This behavior breeds resentment within the community, as people believe, that you place yourself above the principles professed, expecting more out of them, than you are willing to do yourself.  As Ghandi said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”  Leaders must model the change process, so that everyone knows that the leaders, not only aren’t above the principles, but hold themselves to a higher standard on the principles espoused. As the Bible teaches, “To whom much is given, much is required.”  Leadership is more than just a title, it’s the working example for the rest of the team.  It’s what the principles look like, when applied in someone’s life.  Does your team see changes in your leadership on a regular basis?  Every month, certainly every year, the community ought to see the change process being lived out in your life, modeling the proper behaviors for the rest of the team.

The second step in the “teachable moment” process is when mistakes happen, sit down with them.  At first, this may sound scary, to both the leader and the team member, since few people, are comfortable addressing issues. The key here, is that sitting down, isn’t a criticism meeting, but a learning meeting.  Because all of us make mistakes, sitting down shouldn’t be a beat up session, but an opportunity to express value to the person, explaining the opportunity available to both of you to learn.  By sitting down, it gives the leader an opportunity to express the value that he places on the team members work, sharing that the goal is to help them advance even further.  When starting the meeting by sharing how much you accept, approve and appreciate his work, the ‘teachable moment’ will be accepted as positive feedback needed to improve performance further, not just criticism because of the mistake.  Let the team member know that you have made similar mistakes in the past, and still make plenty of mistakes, in the present, leading to “teachable moments”.  This sets people at ease, allowing them to truly listen to improve, instead of listening to defend.

The third step is to express the common vision shared and accomplished through changing the behaviors, techniques and principles applied.  The team, that the leader leads, can only win through a team effort.  There must be a common vision that aligns the team’s behaviors towards stated objectives.  By reviewing the common vision, it ensures that both parties are focusing on the same outcome, improving the team, not just negative criticizing of a teammate.  Be sure to point out to the teammate, how important his role is in the accomplishment of the team’s goals.  The more people feel that their role counts, and the more people feel the leaders are counting on them, the more that they will do to get the job done.  Most people will rise to the level of expectation placed upon them.  People want to do a good job, impressing their superiors with their attitude and results.  Only after completing these three critical steps, should anyone start course correcting a person’s behavior.

The fourth step is to address the behavior or thinking that needs changing.  At this point, the leader has affirmed the team member, helping his ego, handle the adjustment without feeling worthless, stupid, or unnecessary.  By creating a culture where mistakes aren’t fatal, but only part of the learning process, real change can occur quickly.  If someone is interrupting the speaker during meetings, so that no one can finish a point, then you may have to sit down with them.  After letting him know that you did in the past, and still do the same thing occasionally, being something that you have to work on constantly, this helps the team member feel that his load is no heavier than yours. If you changed, then he can too.  This is a much better result, than an argument where he defends his actions, stating that you are always criticizing him.  Or the other outcome, that the issue is never addressed, allowing the behavior to continue, leading to no “teachable moments” and little learning occurring in the organization.

The fifth step, is to ask questions, ensuring that they understand what is expected of them in the future and how they plan on improving.  During this discussion, it’s important to point out as many example of issues that you needed to improve in the past.  Not current issues, but issues solved over the years.  So many great examples follow the dream, struggle, victory process.  I share any examples where the full process is complete, but I don’t share where I have not achieved a victory yet.  The goal is to give the team member hope that after the struggle comes a huge victory.  The more people stay focused on their victories, vicariously learning from your victories, the more effort they will apply to overcome their poor behaviors, replacing with behaviors that produce results.

The sixth step, one that gives confidence and expectancy to the team member in the “teachable moments” is to point out other areas where they have already changed.  By taking the time to, not only notice, but point out to them, areas where you have seen growth, the team member feels appreciated and respected because you are displaying the value you have for them.  Let them know that the reason you are sitting down with them is because of your confidence in their hunger and willingness to change, that you are only sitting down with them because of the confidence that you have. The other strength in this step is that they feel, if they improved in other areas, that they can improve in this area.  Results can create momentum for further results.  The team member must feel that they can make the change, and, that you are counting on them to step up in this area for the betterment of themselves and the entire team.

The seventh step in the “teachable moments” process is to unite around the common vision for the team.  When teams have a bigger vision than any of the participants can accomplish on their own, it unites the team, driving change and growth.  Leaders must speak to the vision when sitting down with people.  This helps everyone understand and feel the direction the organization is heading.  The goal of the leader is to help the team member feel part of the vision, understanding the key role that they play in making the vision a reality.  The more the team member feels part of the team, accepting responsibility for his assignment, the more leverage that he will apply to himself to change.  It’s much easier to let yourself down than it is to let an entire team down.  This is why, in sports, that some of the best times are in team relays, runners and swimmers, not wanting to let their teammates down.

The eighth, and final step is for the leader to ask what part he can play in helping the change process.  Nothing displays the value that a leader has in a teammate, like taking the time for a “teachable moment” session, wrapping up with how can one help.  Criticism of others is easy, and a leader will not partake in idle criticism, but improvement is tough, requiring courage and accepting responsibility.  When a leader sets the bar high, identifies areas of improvement, and takes the time for “teachable moments”, the atmosphere created for the team is one of love, encouragement, expectation and results.  Leaders understand that it is their responsibility to form a team of people willing to grow and change.  Mistakes are a given, but learning and growth are optional.  The eighth step is vital because it let’s the team member know that you are with them, wanting to help them where you can.  

Leaders who will follow these eight steps for “teachable moments” will start the process of creating learning organizations, where everyone understands that they must grow and change for the team to accomplish its objectives.  Any leader that avoids “teachable moments” is a leader that is avoiding growth, but any leader who runs around criticizing, without implementing the eight steps, is a leader on his way out of leadership.  Leadership is an art and science, I can explain the eight steps, but I cannot give a person the heart to love his team.  This process is more than just a rote following of the eight steps, but more a loving way to help people identify areas to grow, committing to them time and energy to help them change, creating better results for all involved.  Leaders drive change, and the team changes the most when the team members grow.  Grow yourself first, setting the example of the change process, giving you the credibility to sit down with others, teaching the change process, through the “teachable moments”.  God Bless, Orrin Woodward

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