Saturday, February 19, 2011

Great Leaders Act Like a Teacher - Lead to an Objective

In my previous post, I drew parallels between leadership and teaching. I have deep regard for the skills of a good teacher and good leaders seem to naturally apply their skills. Here are the five critical behaviors of a teacher and the same behaviors applied to leadership:

Five Critical Behaviors of a Teacher

Five Critical Behaviors of a Leader

Teach to an objective

Lead to an objective. Have clarity in your misison.

SELECT an objective at the appropriate level of difficulty.

Put people in a position and role where they can succeed.Pursue clarity in roles.

MAINTAIN the focus of the learner on the learning.

MAINTAIN the focus on the follower.

USE without abuse the Principles of Learning (Active Participation, Motivation, Closure, Reinforcement)

USE without abuse the Principles of leadership (Active Participation, Motivation, Engagement, Trust)

MONITOR and adjust.

MONITOR and adjust.

In this post, I focus on the the first critical behavior of teachers and leaders who act like a teacher and employ the objective as a leadership tool.

When a teacher teaches to an objective, it calls on the teacher to not only formulate an objective before instruction begins, but to also declare the objective as an element of each lesson. There is a planning element to the objective but it is also important to communicate the objective not only at the beginning of the lesson but also to restate the objective at the end of the lesson.

In my own role as a teacher, this eventually became a natural element of my instructional approach. Interestingly, as I watch training lessons in the business world, it is common to see a trainer dive into the content of a lesson without the statement of objective. Most "amateur" trainers are more concerned about the content and forget the packaging, i.e. the statement of objectives at the beginning and end of a lesson.

In "Act like a teacher" fashion, it also falls naturally that leaders should lead to an objective. The primary purpose of this post is to explore of the "objective" as a leadership tool. I have chosen to explore the use of objectives in three areas:

  1. The objective as a planning tool.
  2. Using objectives as a meeting agenda.
  3. Using objectives to organize communication.

The Objective as a Planning Tool

Just as the objective is part of a teacher's lesson plan, the statement of objectives is a useful and influential part of the planning process. The process can start as simply as asking the question, "What are we trying to accomplish?"

In the business world is is very common to find conversations about problems that start with solutions. It is kind of like doing software development without requirements. It is easy to begin "solutioning" before the objectives are actually stated. As a leader, you can influence the conversation by simply stating, "Let identify what we are trying to accomplish here." This leads to your list of objectives.

For teachers, learning objectives describe "what students should know or be able to do at the end of the course." (MIT Teaching & Learning Labratory) and are distinguishable because the begin with an action verb like demonstraction, report, compare, etc.

For the the purpose of business planning, I feel that your objectives, stated as little more than a bulleted list of what you are trying to accomplish, is often adequate. A simple bulleted list might be DUMB (doable, understandable, manageable & beneficial) but still can add direction to the conversation. Many objective-setting experts propose that you improve your objectives by making them SMART, i.e. Simple, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. In a quiet leader manner, I propose that any objective used in planning and that answers the question, "What are we trying to accomplish?" is a significant and leaderly step.

Using Objectives as a Meeting Agenda.

In business, we participate in hundreds of meetings every year. Unfortunately, many meetings start and end with no statement of purpose or agenda. People leave those meetings frustrated and wondering why the meeting was needed.

It is very simple to state the objectives in the meeting the meeting invitation and restate the objectives at the beggining of the meeting. In prefer a statment of objectives over an agenda. Whereas, an agenda would provide a sequence of topics, a list of objectives can do the same while also providing purpose and direction to the meeting.

The meeting experts at the Effective Meeting site offer Six Tips for More Effective Meetings where they state the importance of meeting objectives in tip number two, immediately behind their first tip where they propose that the best meeting sometimes is no meeting. In talking about meeting objectives they state,

One benefit of setting objectives for the meeting is to help you plan the meeting. The more concrete your meeting objectives, the more focused your agenda will be.

You can lead with objectives by using objectives as a meeting agenda.

Using Objectives to Organize Communication

A few years ago when I was teaching a college critical thinking class for IT students, it was common for these new students to submit papers that were unorganized and meandering. The writers would often jump directly into the content discussion with no statement of purpose or hint about their plan. My primary message to those students is essentially my recommendation in this post. Leaders can use objectives to organize and more effectively package written or verbal communication. A simple declaration of your objectives or purpose in either a written paper, memo or presentation goes a long ways to organizing the communication and giving it a purpose.

I could not have stated this any better than white paper specialist Jim Lodico in his post, Ten Days to a Better White Paper – Day 1: Define Your Objectives where he writes

One of the most important yet most overlooked steps in creating a white paper is to clearly define the goals and objectives of the project. ... The paper may provide valuable information and truly solve an industry problem but without a clearly defined objective at the outset, the white paper doesn’t work.

The same message can be made about presentations. A statement of objectives adds direction and purpose to your presentations. It also gives the presentation a teacher-like quality. This idea is validated by presentation specialist and author, Andrew V. Abela at his The Extreme Presentation(tm) Method blog. Speaking of presentation objectives he writes,

Your objectives should not be about what you—the presenter—intend to do in your presentation. Those are not objectives; they’re an agenda. Your objectives should be about how your audience will change as a result of your presentation: how will they think and act differently after they leave the room.

You can avoid unorganized and meadering communication by adding a statement of objectives to your written communications and presentations.

The primary purpose of this post is to explore the "objective" as a leadership tool. Just like a teacher, quiet leaders will benefit by leading to an objective in planning, meetings, and communications.

Thanks for reading. Please lead quietly with objectives.


No comments: