#Leadership, Expectations & Teaching

Here is a newsflash for all managers. You have to teach people how to do things before you can expect them to do them well.

This lesson became painfully clear to me this year. For the first three years I taught, I assumed that students came to me with the basic reading, researching, writing, note taking and thinking skills; that they knew how to think critically, how to conduct an analysis. To my dismay, I found out that they didn’t have these skills.

Then I thought they could learn those skills independently using resources like the writing centre, the library instruction workshops, and the student success centre. To my dismay, they didn’t learn these skills on their own.

Duh. How could I expect them to have those skills if I didn’t teach them the skills? I integrated six hours of basic skills instruction in a pilot course, created assignments that tested these basic skills, making them practice the skills. With the help of my friendly librarian, Heather Campbell, we taught the course.

The first day of class we tested the students’ knowledge of basic information literacy skills. The class average on the 16 item test was 49 per cent, in spite of their stated confidence in their research skills. At the end of the course, the students completed a post test. The average was 76 per cent. Teaching works.

How does this apply to managers? If you are going to evaluate someone’s performance with respect to a skill or activity, you need to make sure that they have the basic skills to succeed. You can’t always count on your employees to know if they have those skills (my students thought they were pretty good at research, when they had a 49% average…).

It’s critical to “scaffold” the skills, starting with more basic skills, building more complex skills on top of foundational skills as the employee masters each skill. Employees need skill training, but they also need time to practice the skills, and feedback at each step of the way. They need skill repetition to reinforce the skill.

This is a huge investment of time, most managers will groan. There are big benefits. You get better quality work almost immediately, which makes it far less painful to coach and work with that individual. They build self-confidence about their abilities, which builds their self-sufficiency. A short-term investment of time leads to long-term effectiveness. One investment in my students’ skills means that they take these skills with them throughout their academic and professional careers. For managers an intensive investment now means more independent, efficient and effective employees which means less work for you in the long-term.

Strategic leadership includes the development and management of human capital (or people, as I like to call them). Good leaders leverage the talent of their employees. One way to do that is to teach them the skills they need to be successful.


4 replies »

    • I think that we agree. At least I’m hoping that I was saying that teaching is about enabling in my post…:) If not, let me assure you that we share the same philosophy.

  1. What you are saying is sound though it may be aimed at the wrong audience. I can’t recall a position that I have had where on day one I haven’t heard the words, “Forget everything you have been taught or that you have learned because we’re going to teach you how to do it right!”
    I think your expectations of your students comes part and parcel with the academic world. You really did expect that the instructors who taught your students before you were as conscientious as you and taught your students how to “Think”. Not so, apparently.
    With having ten kids and five still in school, from grade to university, the most common theme heard can be characterized by the Star Trek “Borg”. Not always as there are refreshing exceptions, but to hear “You will comply!” and “Resistance is futile!” was not uncommon. Perhaps a little overstated, though, you went back to teaching skills that should have been picked up in grades three through eight.
    When you finish with your students you want thinking people. You sound like someone who has been in the corporate world where “You’ve been there, done that!” and wants to bring it back to where it can be learned.

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