Posts tagged learning
A Shortcut to Experience

A story is told about a reporter who was interviewing a successful bank president. He wanted to know the secret of the man’s success. "Two words”, he was told, “right decisions.” “And how do you make right decisions?” asked the reporter. The reply: “One word: experience.” The reporter pressed on. “And how do you get experience?” he asked. To which the banker replied, “Two words: wrong decisions.”

We all recognize the importance of job and life experience, especially for leaders. Experience gives leaders context for important decisions that they must make and insight into how best to lead, motivate and respond to their people. Experienced leaders have been through the wringer before and can use their past learning and decisions to guide them moving forward.

Yet, for many new leaders, experience can be hard to come by. And in today’s fast-changing, competitive environment in which more and more young people are assuming leadership roles, it can be critical for them to find ways to gain experience quickly in order to ensure that they make as few “wrong decisions” as possible, for their own sake as well as for those that they lead.

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Get to know the job well

My first leadership experience was the most unusual, most unexpected and most fleeting management role that I ever held. When I was a high school senior, I was asked if I could provide supervision in a kosher restaurant in Manhattan on Saturday nights. I didn't live too far from the place and wanted to earn some extra cash, so I agreed. The position, I was told, included oversight in the kitchen, and, because I could be in and out, manning the cash register.

The first night was going pretty smoothly. It took me a short while to learn the inner workings of the establishment's kitchen and how to operate the register. Not bad, I thought, for $10 an hour. But then, the head waiter told me that I had a phone call.

"Is this the manager?" asked the woman on the line. "Manager?" I thought. I hesitated, thinking that he had called the wrong person to the phone. I asked her to hold and went back to the head waiter. He explained to me that every kosher supervisor who works in that restaurant is also the manager, so yes; I was the right one to answer. I picked the phone back up. The woman, by now confused and a bit annoyed, asked incredulously, "are you sure that you're the manager?" With the confidence of a censored child I meekly replied to the affirmative. Let's just say that I've had better leadership moments than that one.

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Put the past where it belongs

Success is not about the resources that we have access to but rather the resourcefulness that we bring to each situation. The most successful people in life were not necessarily the ones who had it all laid out for them on a silver platter. Plenty of folks with the standard “success ingredients” such as intellect, strength, charisma, wealth, good working environments, strong business plans, etc. have done surprisingly little in life.

What can we do to become more resourceful, so that we can take proper advantage of possibilities, manufacture opportunities and manage setbacks in a way that allows us to move forward? Consider using these techniques:

  1. Prepare well in advance. We never know exactly how things will work out. The best-laid plans often go sideways, many times for reasons that we could never have predicted. The readier we are for situations, the easier it will be to live in the moment and chart a different course to success.
  2. Be an avid learner. Again, the more we know the better we typically do. As part of being prepared, take the regular time needed to be well-versed on whatever we are trying to achieve. Many pundits suggest at least 30 minutes daily of growth-oriented reading.
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Know Your Why

In a moving video talk, comedian Michael Jr. describes the power of knowing your “why.” In it, he showed an audience a clip from a different event, in which he asked a member of that audience to sing the opening stanzas from “Amazing Grace.” The gentleman, a music teacher, began in a deep baritone and sang the refrain flawlessly.

After praising his performance, the comedian asked the teacher to do it again, but this time painted a scenario of true appreciation, such as a family member being released from prison. Not surprisingly, the second performance far outshone the first. This time, the song was performed with added feeling and emotion. The words were more animated and the tone was deeper and richer. Michael Jr. concluded that, “When you know your ‘why’ then your ‘what’ has more impact, because you’re working towards your purpose.”

Leadership expert Simon Sinek calls this “the golden circle.” He says that it’s not enough to know what you do and how you do it. At our essence, we are most motivated by knowing why we do things. And it’s through that awareness that we can best connect with and sell to others.

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Being an abundant mentor

Mentoring programs typically fail because one or more positive ingredients listed above are missing. Without question, the mentor’s head has to be fully in the game. When I first began as a head of school, I was assigned an experienced mentor from a different school on the other side of the country. He agreed to help me as a favor, and, predictably, as the school year progressed and his schedule became increasingly more filled, our time together dwindled to the point that the relationship had practically ended on its own.

In addition, a mentor has to be able to earn the protégé’s trust. That is not as simple as it sounds. In addition to demonstrating capacity, effective mentors find ways to make their protégés genuinely feel that they have the mentor’s best interests in mind.

One great way by which to build such trust is to think in abundance. Abundance theory sees the world as offering infinite possibilities. It suggests that not only is there plenty to go around (the opposite of scarcity thinking) but it also posits that my helping others will help me, in terms of sharpening my skillset and building increased capacity and demand within the field.

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Where did it all go? Thoughts about student memory and retention

Have you ever taught something and your class really seemed to get it, only to revisit the concept a short while later, and it’s as if they never heard of it? Better yet, have you patted yourself on the back after your students aced an exam only for you to ask a related question two days later and get back a class full of blank stares? It’s almost as if their minds were one big etch-a-sketch that had once memorized lots of information before being wiped clean.

If you’re like me, you’ve had that experience more than once. And we all know how it feels. It can be one of the most frustrating experiences for a teacher, seemingly invalidating all of the hard work — in terms of preparation, content delivery and reinforcement — of the past many weeks. Why does this happen and what can teachers do to ensure that students properly process and retain key information?

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Foster a growth mindset

A fixed mindset refers to the belief that skill and capacity are fundamentally attached to a person’s genetic composition. Either you “have it” and are good at it, or you’re not. This applies to everything from academics (“I’m not much of a math guy”) to business and social situations (“I don’t know marketing,”) as well as music, athletics, and more.

Those with growth mindsets, on the other hand, tend to believe that skills can be learned, at least to some degree of proficiency. They maintain and that success depends mainly on one’s willingness to learn, practice and pursue their goals. These men and women are not content to rest on their laurels. They continuously strive to learn new things and to develop new capabilities. They do so in part because of a great drive to succeed. But they also possess a deep sense that they can stretch their inborn talents if they are willing to make the effort.

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