328: Tony Wagner, Learning by Heart

April 19, 2020 by Joshua
in Podcast

People often ask for advice on how to lead in a given situation, what leadership means, or one tip they can improve their leadership with. Nearly none of the questions help someone improve their leadership.

The most useful question I can think of is: How do I learn to lead? In other words, what steps can I take to learn to lead?

No leader would answer: read a lot of books, magazine articles, or journal articles. Nor would they suggest discussing case studies of other people’s experiences, write papers, listen to lectures, or take tests.

They’d probably say something about getting experience, especially related to leadership, not sitting in a classroom. What experience, though? Only random life experience, hoping it will help?

Learning the social and emotional skills underlying leadership may once have meant shots in the dark. No longer. Project-based, active, experiential learning teaches these skills as reliably and predictably as playing scales teaches piano and hitting ground strokes teaches tennis.

I learned of Tony Wagner and his work through his appearances in a documentary movie on that type of learning, mainly in US K-12 schools, called Most Likely to Succeed, based on a book he co-wrote of the same title. I had started learning to teach that way. The movie accelerated my learning and expanded my horizons.

Leadership and teaching this style overlap. You will benefit from learning this style of learning whether you teach or have kids or not. Hearing Tony speak of it will show you it’s importance and accelerate your learning. You’ll lead yourself and others better.

We start by him sharing problems with education. You’ll likely be able to read between the lines on our ineffective leadership in politics, business, and especially relevant to the environment. Current education focuses on facts and analysis, not skills. It produces would-be leaders who focus on facts and analysis who create plans they lack the skills to implement, if they even create implementable plans.

If you haven’t acted, you don’t know what you’re talking about regarding leading, yet people trained in the mainstream style consider themselves experts. It happens to all of us, all the more the less we know how to learn how Tony shows.

What’s causing environmental problems isn’t lack of knowledge or facts, but acting effectively to engage others. Tony talks about what we don’t teach and what we could teach—things missing from many areas in life as people seek compliance through coercion. I see scientists trying to influence legislators by bypassing the public—a process they decry others for doing in the other direction.

They think they’re right. They may be, but they’re trying to bypass democracy. Do they not see the problem? People who disagree think they’re right too.

When Tony says education, I recommend substituting leadership. In nearly each case, what he says applies equally.

I recommend reading his books (listed here) and watching Most Likely to Succeed, especially if you have kids or interact with other people.

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