The Surprising Way to Develop Leadership Talent

If you are in charge of developing leadership talent, what could be the highest return on your time and resources?

Conventional wisdom says that the eldest child in a family is “smartest” because she has the most attention time from parents as an only child. Yet, research shows this is all wrong.

In fact, the eldest child has the greatest opportunity to teach the younger siblings. Because of this “teaching time,” she is able to solidify her own learning.

Teaching is one of the most underutilized tools in leadership development.

We urge you to use leaders as teachers.

The Importance of Teaching in Learning

Most people think of the act of teaching as benefiting the “students” or those being taught. Students who are exposed to the wisdom and experience of another should benefit in a sustainable, relevant way.

Yet few think of teaching as benefiting the “teacher.” For leaders who are deliberately practicing their leadership skills, teaching is the surest way of internalizing and applying those skills.

Teaching others about leadership is the best forcing mechanism for leaders to become better leaders.

In order to teach something, leaders must extract new information, then process that information against existing mental models and previous experiences, and finally apply it in some successful manner. They must do this enough times, in enough circumstances, to gain the comfort to share it with others.  

The level of internalization of those skills and know-how that’s required is quite significant, to then be able to communicate them to others—in an organized, cohesive, and compelling manner. 

Encouraging Your Leaders to Teach

If you’re in charge of leadership talent development, and you are looking to make the most of teaching opportunities for some key leaders, we have good news. The main thing you need to do is provide the opportunity to share.  

What might that look like in reality?

  • Create informal chances for people to be able to easily create their own lunch-and-learns.
  • Start a social or video channel where people can create their tutorials.
  • Have an online platform where leaders can create and publish their own white papers or case studies.
  • Host lessons-learned contests or post-mortem competitions of what was learned from projects or programs.
  • Have a way of publicly identifying and encouraging experts in particular leadership skills whom others can go to for advice.
  • Have a venue whereby up-and-coming leaders can request the knowledge and expertise of leadership experts, akin to a virtual “wanted” board.
  • In smaller settings, have leadership team members teach something they’re good at to the rest of the team.

The possibilities are endless.

What to Watch Out For

First, leaders may attend a course then get complacent and think, “Yup, I’ve applied this newly developed skill several times. I get it.” Yet the learning process is not complete without this last step of teaching.

Second, some believe that when you teach something one time you are done. Yet research has shown that the more times you share your knowledge to different audiences, the greater the learning. In other words, you are really forced to know your stuff and think through it well.

Bottom Line

If you’re responsible for leadership talent in your organization, you can accelerate leadership skills training by creating multiple teaching opportunities for leaders. Not only will they likely be happy to share what they know with others, but the benefits of doing so are exponential for all involved.



Achieving the Promise of Transformational M&A Integration


Remembering Andy Grove: A Perspective on Leadership, Innovation & Culture