A problem with teaching high-level principles

August 10, 2014 by Joshua
in Education, Leadership

Most leadership books teach high-level principles and so-called “laws.” I’ve read books that tell the reader to create purpose or meaning for their followers, or to engage them, without describing how to do those things.

Leadership is experiential. We gain high-level principles from experience, not the other way around.

High-level instruction like that doesn’t help people learn to lead. It helps the people who need it most least. It’s like telling a beginner pianist to play with feeling or to express themselves through the music when they probably haven’t learned to play basic scales. Since few people have had explicit and effective leadership training, the equivalent of giving them scales would help more.

If you tell someone to pick something up or to fill out a form, anyone knows how to do it. How do you engage someone? You aren’t helping someone if that’s all you say.

If you’ve suffered under a boss, teacher, coach, parent, or other person in a leadership position without leadership skills, you know the problem with ineffective leadership training. Teaching people to parrot principles they haven’t learned from experience risks creating people who think they can lead when they can’t.

That’s the value of low-level instruction and why I use simple exercises with clients and students. They’re simple and they work, just like musical scales.

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