How to Let Others Teach Themselves

People in managerial roles are in the position where they need certain things to get done, and they need other people to do them.  Now, sometimes those people will know exactly how to go about doing all of the things that are required for that end goal to be accomplished.  But there are plenty of scenarios where people are going to have to learn something new in order to do what is needed.  The question then becomes, how does one get those people to learn what they need to learn?  Does one teach them, or should they teach themselves?

If a manager decides they are going to teach, then they are going to be using up their time doing so–time they could be using on other things.  So the ideal is for people to teach themselves.  And if you read my previous article, you will know what I am about to say: I think it is actually better if people teach themselves.  However, in order for them to want to do this, they need to be convinced that they actually need to know the material, and have a genuine interest and desire to learn it based on that need.  So the real role of the manager, then, is to motivate the people who work under them.

I think that the best way to go about this is to first give someone an end goal.  Paint them a picture of what the end result will look like.  Next, give them a little bit of guidance about how to get started.  Then, let them go.  Let them figure out how to get there, and check in with them along the way.

For example, the teacher in yesterday’s article might have said to the students, “You’re going to need a place to sit, something to sit on, and a few tables for group work.”  Now the students know what the end result is going to look like.  Then the teacher might say, “There is a bunch of wood in the storage room in the basement, and Mr. So-and-So the technology teacher is going to let us use his woodshop to build it.  He also said he would help us in drawing up plans.”  Notice that the teacher isn’t leaving them high and dry–but he or she is also not telling them every little detail of what is going to need to be done.  Once this part is done, the teacher probably just told the students to get started, and stepped in when needed.

The challenge is to know how to step in–not too much, and not too little as well.  People need to know that they are in charge of figuring this thing out, but also that they can get help when they get lost.  If there is too much freedom, they could get totally off track, but if there isn’t enough, then they might not feel the necessity to learn at all (“Oh, I don’t need to know how to do this, because my manager is basically going to do it for me.”).

I realize that there are probably a whole lot of other factors that come into play in a workplace scenario, so the classroom example above might not fully address all of those.  This method will also vary depending on the environment and the nature of the work.  But the basic method still holds true.  If people care, they will learn.  And if they care a lot, they will teach themselves.  If you are in a managerial role, I would encourage you to try this.  Your employees could very well surprise you with what they are capable of–and your time will be freed up as well.  It feels good to know how to do something because you taught yourself.  Give people the chance to take ownership of their work and teach themselves how to go about accomplishing a goal.  You will be glad you did.