We Learn Best By Doing
July 22, 2013
We learn best by doing, making mistakes and gaining minor wins in the heat of battle. Theoretical learning is necessary, but it only provides a framework to build practical experience.
One of the things I learned in the army is that the best way to develop good officers is to ensure that theyve gained a minimum level of experience and competence as followers and junior leaders before letting them command and lead at higher levels. For instance, you dont necessarily need an officer to command a platoon, but it is essential to have been a platoon commander early in your career to be a good officer later on. Platoon leadership is the best school because it puts the young officer on the front lines leading soldiers and non commissioned officers directly, without the constant intervention of more experienced officers. The young lieutenant has to learn to fend for him or herself by building on the scaffolding taught in officer candidate training. The theoretical lessons therefore become practical experience by doing, correcting, and improving, rather than by rote learning alone. These become valuable lessons learned for the rest of ones career.
Unfortunately, this is often lost on financial analysts and journalists in the business press, people who, more often than not, have never tried to do what they are counselling business leaders to do. They tell executives how they should manage their companies, sometimes advocating corporate breakups, acquisitions, and other risky manoeuvres simply to improve stock market valuations. Need I say that the valuations are driven by numerous factors, some of which are mostly random? MBAs and other professional qualifications are only the start of the learning process. They must be honed through practical management and leadership before they should lead to giving advice to others.
The most powerful means of influence is not reward and punishment, but rather to show that it is in the followers best interests, intellectually, materially, emotionally, and socially to follow the leader.
Richard Martin is a consultant, speaker, and executive coach. He brings his military and business leadership and management experience to bear for executives and organizations seeking to exploit change, maximize opportunity, and minimize risk.
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