Have you ever heard of the ‘Protégé Effect? It’s a term that traces back to the idea that one of the best ways to learn and grow is to teach others. Seneca, the Roman philosopher reportedly said, ‘While we teach, we learn’.
Leaders are life long learners
Let’s apply it to leadership. What if the best way for you to grow as a leader is to invest heavily in helping other leaders grow? One of the attributes of great leaders is that they are life-long learners. What if we become life-long learners by developing other leaders and train them to go and do likewise so that they remain life-long learners?
Consider what this might look like. Begin to look for people who want to be developed as a leader. They may currently be a leader or they may be people you are already discipling. (I wrote about this in a previous post)
Personally, I only invest my time as a coach or mentor with those who want to learn and grow. It not only gives me great joy, but the more eager someone wants to grow the more I find myself growing.
The first thing you might want to do is to tell them that you want to meet with them in a deliberate way for the purposes of helping them develop as a leader. You want them to realize that your goal is that they will become the kind of leader that does with others what you are doing with them. Developing leaders who are trained to develop leaders.
A WIN WIN STRATEGY
Here is a simple strategy I use to develop leaders. I call it the ‘W.I.N. W.I.N.’ strategy. I know, it’s cheesy, but it helps me keep two major components in mind. The acronym means “What Is Next?” “Who Is Needed?”
The idea behind this is simple. Good leaders know how to identify what needs to be attended to. Good leaders refrain from doing it alone. A good leader has cultivated the habit of partnering with others to do what is next. In fact, where possible, they delay starting a project until they involve others to come alongside.
Here is my thinking. If you want to be a leader who is a life-long learner then train your new leaders to be life-long learners. Train them how to develop other leaders as you work at developing them. And to do these things, place learning in the context of action.
WHEN POSSIBLE PLACE LEARNING IN THE CONTEXT OF ACTION
To place learning in the context of action, invite them into the planning process to get them started on their first project. Involve them in thinking about the problem to solve, or the initiative to begin. Have them set goals and keep them focused on the next thing to do to keep things moving forward. Keep asking, who is needed to work with you on this project? Keep slowing them down if they want to speed things up by doing it alone. In the long run it will pay off.
Through a very simple planning process you immediately do three things. You got them involved/owning the project they will begin doing. You are teaching them to think through planning strategies. You are training them to identify others & recruit them into the project with the idea that they will also learn to develop some of them into leaders.
Great Questions to guide the life-long learning cycle
ACT. Instruct them to go and Act on the plan. As they do so have them ask and think about three things. What am I doing? What is happening? What am I noticing?
REFLECT. Be deliberate in meeting with the leaders you develop and help them develop the practice of reflecting on what they are working on. Introduce them to questions like: What happened? What worked? What didn’t work?
LEARN. Introduce them to why it is important to reflect. When you begin to reflect it provides the ground for ongoing learning. Answer questions like: What did I learn? What does that mean? How else can I look at it?
PLAN. Now we are back to planning. What could I do differently next time? How do I need to think differently next time? What mindset would be more helpful next time? What is next? Who is needed?
ACT. Go back to the beginning and cycle through again. Instruct them to go and Act on the plan. As they do so have them ask and think about three things. What am I doing? What is happening? What am I noticing?
In the beginning focus on frequent review meetings and keep the action steps small scale. As the person begins to grow and action plans become more complex then you begin to stretch out the review meetings.
Remember, you are developing leaders in such a way as to grow in two dimensions: the external world and the inner world. Focus your planning around the person’s strength. Encourage honesty concerning their weaknesses. Encourage them to follow the W.I.N. W.I.N. disciplines: What is Next? Who is Needed?