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The Protégé Effect

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Over breakfast one morning, my seven-year-old daughter told me her teacher was bald and reminded me of a powerful lesson in learning and development.“Today we’re having Miss Watt in class; she’s bald, Mummy. She shaved her head so that she could be the same as her friend”. Miss Watt explained to the children that her friend had cancer and needed medicine that would make her hair fall out.

Miss 7, explained further. “Miss Watt said, you know how if you go into a forest alone that you might be frightened, and then if someone comes with you that you’re not so frightened anymore? Well, that’s how her friend felt about the medicine and losing her hair. So, Mummy, Miss Watt shaved her hair so her friend wouldn’t be so frightened.”

Well, of course, I was in a puddle of tears. What a beautiful way to describe a difficult but heart-warming show of solidarity. And what a story! How could I share this with others? It got me thinking about solidarity in learning.

Making learning stick or implementing new skills is a common challenge we face. This is true both in our personal and professional life.

At work, there are many reasons why people don’t execute the learning from programs, seminars or presentations. Some of these might ring true for you:

  • I’m too busy dealing with the fires that started while I was away
  • The learning wasn’t immediately relevant to my job
  • There were so many great concepts where do I start? Nowhere!
  • No one is holding me accountable so it doesn’t matter if I do/or do not put it into practice
  • It was inspiring but I’m not sure how to make it work for me.

The Truth is We are Afraid

The biggest reason people fail to implement something new is that they are afraid. Afraid to look silly, sound silly, to have a go. To go into the forest of the unknown. Sometimes implementing something new is daunting and feels awkward. ‘No one else seems to be doing ‘it’ why should I be the different one? I don’t want to stand out!’

If you have been doing something the same way for a while, others may wonder and even comment on the change. They might even laugh. Worst of all, the first few times you try something new it might actually fail.  But guess what? F.A.I.L stands for First Attempt In Learning

Think about when a tennis player making a slight change to their grip. Yes, practice and perseverance every day will result in an improved backhand but the first few days, even weeks, might prove frustrating with balls going everywhere but the right spot. The tennis player may feel discouraged and want to revert back to their old grip but that won’t facilitate the change they want.

The same is true for when we learn a new skill, like asking open questions or providing constructive feedback or delivering a powerful presentation. Yes, it made sense in the training room or online when the facilitator mentioned it or when we practised it in the safety of the workshop, but what about in the real world?

How do I implement my learning without being frightened of a negative outcome? Well, there are many tips for making learning stick, but one that is proven to work is teaching someone else what you have learned – The Protégé Effect.

Teaching Makes Us All Smarter

Firstly, here’s a summary on  Why teaching makes you smarter.

For centuries we have known that if you want to perform better, then teach others.  Research has found that students who teach are also more motivated to learn. So, make a point of identifying someone in your ‘team’ you’d like to share your learning with and then teach that someone what you have learned. Then ask that person to implement the new skill with you, at the same time.

Solidarity in learning! If you are both learning at the same time it helps to embed the skills, so:

  • Share your successes and failures. What went well, what didn’t and why?
  • Have a laugh when it doesn’t go quite right
  • Recognise each other for trying as well as succeeding
  • Cheer each other on. “Yay! You are awesome! It’ll be better next time.”
  • Fine tune the skill
  • Keep going until it’s a habit and it’s not so scary anymore.

This person can be your accountability buddy, your coach, your friend, your student, your Miss Watt! If Miss Watt can shave her head and her friend can bravely face her treatment, surely you can change the way you improve your learning in communication, leadership, presentation or any other skills.

What better way to give it a go, than with your friend or with your team. You can even tell your customers you’re going to be trying something new.

Just don’t give up.