Teachers give you skills and options, you need to do the rest
Updated: Jul 25, 2022
I had the pleasure of meeting Master Planner, Landscape and Design John Goldwyn of WATG at the Tourism Megatrends Conference in Athens last week and the delight of discussing mentorship with him. Both of us work with the upcoming stars of the future - in slightly different contexts - but we came to a similar conclusion...leadership skills centre around taking the "best" action (chosen from a wide variety of possible options), and being confident in following that decision through.
Both he and I shared experiences of very hard working young people asking questions such as "But which one of those is the BEST way?" or "Tell me how I should present myself to get the job" or "In my last job I was always told to do this, but you are now saying something else - which is right?"
I commend questions as I know the motivation is wanting to do the best you can. However as teachers, mentors, coaches we cannot give you definitive rules.
I'm not trying to avoid offering an answer, and often in my classes I will have presented (and helped you practice) an array of different responses that could be used. However, what is right at that moment, in that context may not be right, even seconds after!
My sessions are underpinned by "The Law of Requisite Variety", an NLP concept derived from computing. The organism with the most options will yeild the most influence on the system. For me - John too - it is important to broaden your mind to options, to use my experience to explain situations which you can learn from, to help you develop new skills and responses through practice - but that is as far as it goes.
Like an actor - once you have had the direction, the rehearsal process, the experimentation - it is then YOUR TIME to step out on that stage. It will be your choices, your decisions, your actions that are played out...and your consequences too - but that is the beauty of empowerment. I'm not going to play your part for you - it's your part after all. In the same way - I cannot tell you what is right in every circumstance, because you have to decide it for yourself.
I was concerned when a practicing coach recently approached me and asked "What happens if someone does everything you tell them to but they don't achieve their goal?" - they wanted me to discuss insurance and liability. I said "Nothing". In the first instance coaches don't prescribe, they unlock the resources within the person to take action. They may help shape the options available and talk through the possible consequences so the coachee has a rounded view of what may happen - but they do not offer a "to do" list.
I say the same to my students.
Admittedly I'm finally getting fewer and fewer requests on my evaluations to "Tell me what works" now, so I believe my message is getting across - which gives me a lot of faith in the future leaders whom I see within my lectures...but just in case it hasn't quite gotten through - I'm saying it again here.
I get the "confusion":
“Only a fool learns from his own mistakes. The wise man learns from the mistakes of others.” ― Otto von Bismarck
This was a very popular quote for me too... But when it comes to "learning", learning is about giving you options. It is not about rules and definitives. I will be able to explain which of my actions led to mistakes, and suggest that you may not want to behave in exactly the same way - but that doesn't mean there will never be a circumstance in which that choice is appropriate!
Options include an array of choices, which I can help you execute. Options include an awareness of the possible consequences if I have experienced something and you haven't. Options include continually impressing the importance of appreciating all knowledge, thinking critically - although not arrogantly about what you see and hear - as well as respecting and valuing your own judgment, even if you have to stand alone.
I am the first to admit that I don't have all the answers. I can learn as much from you and your experience as you can from me...and I will add that to my store of mental post-it notes to bring out again when I want to. I also don't always get it right. However, I've got this far, and I'm in the privileged position of being able to influence others.
But I want to influence you by unlocking your curiosity, encouraging reflection, motivating you to try something different - just in case it serves you well...and of course to take all that learning and make choices that you can stand by (with flexibility as needed!)
Teachers, mentors, coaches - we can help you live life well but we cannot live it for you (and why should you want us to?)
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience For quick tips and tools: click for SKILL PILL and Q&A videos and here for Media appearances. Twitter/IG @draudreyt