The other day Andrew reminded me of something very important. Andrew is a young man that one of our teams is helping be successful on the job. He has autism and many strengths. One of his strengths is that he “understands” how he learns and remembers things. When the team was “talking” with him and asking if he understood them, he said “no.” Finally he said, “would you write it down for me so I can read it.” He later would type the information into the computer so he could remember it better.
How many of us really understand personally how we learn and process information? More importantly, how many of us regularly use techniques that leverage or speed-up our learning and understanding? As a leader you need to know how you best process and understand information if you want to be successful.
How People Learn. Knowing how people learn can have a significant impact on you as a leader. First, knowing how you learn will make you a more effective leader. And, second, knowing how people on your team learn and understand concepts can help your team be more effective. Basically people learn by:
- Doing (kinesthetic)
- Hearing (auditory, aural)
- Seeing (visual). Although “reading and writing” are ways all learners learn, these techniques are often discussed as “visual” methods. Lately I have seen people talk about them together as a fourth learning style.
There are many on-line resources that can give you or your team insights into how they learn. There are even videos available on You-Tube that describe the styles very well. In this Table you can quickly get an idea about what your preferred style is.
Are You a Listener or a Reader? I like to read and have been reading about business and leaders since I was in Junior High School. So, naturally, I often recommend articles and books to others. I used to work with a colleague who would often say with a smile, “I’m not much of a ‘reader’. Is it out on “talking book” or video yet?” What really amazed me was that he had nearly a photographic memory of what he heard or saw. He could entertain us by delivering lines exactly from films or television shows. That was how he took in information and processed it.
Peter Drucker in his book Management Challenges for the 21st Century writes about how each of us has a preference for how we take-in, process, and understand information. He says we are usually “listeners or readers.” He gives us examples from five successive presidents - Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, John Kennedy, and Lyndon Johnson.
He writes that Roosevelt, Truman, and Kennedy likely knew their preferences well while Eisenhower and Johnson did not. When Eisenhower was a military leader during WWII he was able to read briefings and reporters’ questions in advance and was able to process information and prepare clear responses before a press conference. When he became President and faced spontaneous press conferences he did not come across very well. This was because he was a reader.
Both Roosevelt and Truman were listeners and enjoyed spontaneous press conferences. Kennedy knew he was a reader and structured everything accordingly. Most everything was presented to Kennedy in advance in writing. When Johnson became President he kept many of Kennedy’s aides and procedures in place. However, Johnson was a listener. Perhaps Johnson, who was a very effective Senate leader, could have been a more effective President had he known he was a listener.
Balance. I think for leaders there are three things to remember. First, most of us learn best when we can utilize portions of all three methods. Try to use a “balance” of methods when you are teaching and developing your teams. Second, know which style is your preferred method. Then, when you need to learn something new, make sure you are using techniques that support your preferred method. Finally, to be a leader who is an effective problem-solver, you should know whether you are a “listener or a reader.” Then construct a communication structure that supports you best.
Even Confucius recognized the three methods of learning when he said, “I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.” So, in the end, making sure you and your team understand how to do the right things well, you will need to…lead the learning.