Teach by Example

Teaching as a Leader

In my career, I have found that the best leaders are the ones who demonstrate what is needed, encourage others to try it and thereby teach others how to become leaders.  In some American yoga classes, the yoga teachers simply called out the movements need to position the body and didn’t do the movement with the class, which I found to be a very difficult learning experience.  In work and in yoga class, I also discovered how easy it is to make a mistake in what you say or do.  Sometimes you are simply not as concentrated or flexible as you should be that day, and you fall out of a balancing position in class or you say “move right” when you meant “move left”.  And leaders who don’t take themselves so seriously and can laugh at their own mistakes or situations, are demonstrating that beautiful teaching style called “don’t make this mistake”.

Teaching yoga in Austria, I discovered how important it was to show people how to move the body into positions, step by step.   Although I didn’t speak any German when I first arrived, I found that the yoga class could easily follow my movements even when some of them didn’t understand English that well.  And these people quickly learned the movements and positions, while at the same time appreciating the English lesson…

As babies, even before we have language ability, we learn by seeing.  Later, we gain language to help us understand better what we are seeing and doing.  Our brains incorporate this sequence of seeing and verbalizing as sequential learning reinforcement, and then when we practice it and get feedback on it, we begin to build the long-term memory for the skills.  Over time, practice, encouragement and feedback allow us to become highly skilled in what we are doing.  When we begin to teach it to others we are mastering the skills.

For example, one of the best leaders, teachers and bosses I worked with was a master at leading people through a decision process.  He would take a room full of people from different cultures and functions in the company, size up his audience, and begin to “walk through what we know”, getting everyone’s thoughts out on the table and engaging them with humorous and relevant stories that put the information into perspective. He would then summarize what we know into a few possible decisions that we could make, eliminate the “non-starters” for really insightful reasons, and then get the group’s attention focused on making a brilliant decision out from one or two possibilities.  He did this over and over with his staff and eventually we began to think like him, and practice it in our own meetings.

I’ve applied this same concept to teaching in my yoga classes: understand your audience, level the information they need to know so even the beginners can come up to speed, get them engaged and able to participate, and then make sure they are in a position to move into the position or an adaptation of it.  It’s amazing how fast people get on board with new positions, movements and ideas when you walk and talk them through it.

– Doug Lowe, 2016