How to Use Teachable Moments to Develop Talent

BY Kathy Crosett
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In a well-​publicized teachable moment, President Barack Obama invited a police officer to the White House for a beer a few years back. The invitation followed an altercation in Cambridge, MA between the white officer and a black man entering his home – who turned out to be a professor at Harvard University. Always looking for teaching and development opportunities, President Obama used the incident as a way to help us all develop our thinking about race relations. As a leader in your organization, are you using everyday occurrences to develop your employees' talents?

Alison Eyring, in a SmartBrief​.com article, outlines several ways leaders can develop and train their team members based on everyday activities – outside of the training center and classroom. Eyring cites research that says up to 70% of a team member’s development and expertise on a specific topic comes directly from what he experiences on the job.

These findings make sense. Think about challenges you’ve encountered professionally – such as the need to confront a team member who’s been stealing from the company or the time you worked for a week, day and night, to finish a proposal that won you a top customer. In each case, you were likely paying close attention to the details. The outcome may not have been exactly what you hoped for, but you likely learned plenty in the process and will not duplicate the mistakes you made.

Your team members deserve a chance to experience and grow through similar challenges. One way to accomplish this kind of development is to delegate. Eyring summarizes the delegation strategy of one business executive in her article. The manager often brings a team member to meetings that involve other departments or outside companies. The team member is expected to take over the meeting and handle all of the details and the follow up for the manager. This delegation requires trust and the willingness to let the team member make and then learn from mistakes.

If you have a team member who might not be quite ready for that challenge, start by coaching him on what to expect before a big meeting he’ll attend with you. Explain how you expect him to participate and then let him proceed during the meeting. Afterward, discuss what happened. Ask what he could have done differently to help him think about his strategy in the future.

Allowing your team members to learn on-​the-​job, through challenging meetings, isn’t likely to lead to a dramatic outcome like an invitation to the White House, but they will grow through experiences when you trust them.