When Thomas Carlisle wrote “knowledge is power,” he couldn’t have known the damage that single statement would produce.
After 30 years in business, I never cease to be amazed at the low level of learning, discourse, and change that accompanies mostlearning experiences. Many leaders remain convinced that if information/knowledge is cleverly conveyed, it will produce an intended change in performance and productivity.
The fatal flaw in Carlisle’s argument lies in free will. To experience a presentation of information is to confront knowledge. That knowledge creates awareness, not power. What happens with that awareness lies at the root of flawed assumptions about education, behavior, and outcomes. Individuals and groups regularly confront knowledge that they choose to ignore and demean, continuing in their current behavior. Conversely, knowledge— including what is neglected by others—is regularly taken up and taken in where it stimulates re-thinking and new behavior with the desired changes in results.
The real question lies not in deciding how to push data but in how to get people to experience new ideas and use their free will to get onboard.
Great leaders teach new ideas in ways that not only engage people but persuade them to use their free will for change. To lead people to a better place, you must engage with them as learners and learn how to teach as well as you lead. Here are seven laws or principles that turn knowledge sharing into growth:
Law 1: We are all born to learn.
We must first believe that everyone wants to learn and then understand the resistance— history, approach, ego, frustration—and welcome that person, in his or her own way, into a learning experience.
Law 2: You never know when learning will occur.
As Sherlock Holmes said to Dr. Watson, “You see but you don’tobserve.” We are surrounded by metaphor, examples, conversations, observations, interactions, and experiences that are rich with learning and teaching material. We can Learn by Wandering Around. Any environment—a factory, office, schoolroom, nature—is filled, for the attendant observer, with things to first learn and then to teach.
Law 3: You learn by connecting.
We are metaphorical, not literal beings. We learn and remember best when we connect to life through parables, metaphors, examples, and comparisons. Too many leaders, believing we are literal learners, think a barrage of data or facts in the form of documents, slides, and speeches will persuade us to engage. A well-told story with a clear connection to a challenge or opportunity always works better than a bevy of information.
Law 4: We all learn differently.
Early in my teaching career I learned about VARK (Visual, Auditory, Reading-assisted and Kinesthetic learners). Unaware that people learn differently, many leaders assume that how they learn works for everyone and then project their learning style through their communication. By learning how people learn and accommodating various styles, you connect with more people in a meaningful way.
Law 5: Connections come through storytelling.
In all societies, there’s a chief, priest, healer, and storyteller. Before the written word, a society’s knowledge base was conveyed through stories. We engage with stories. Hence, learning to tell great stories is key to engaging the people you lead.
Law 6: Learning is both an emotional and intellectual experience.
Emotional connection to the teacher or topic opens a door to the mind. Failure to open the emotional door means that information, no matter how well crafted, bounces off the door with little impact.
Law 7: Learning can change lives.
By practicing Laws 1-6, you can gain access to the minds, passions, and souls of people. In making such connections, guided by the light of ethics and morality, you can change lives, lift people, and impact organizations. Teaching is asacred calling with serious responsibilities and wonderful opportunities for those who become able teachers. By incorporating these laws into your leadership, you can teach people through change rather than simply motivating, persuading or pushing—to a more engaged and lasting success.