Tell 🡪Show 🡪 Do: Leading when Someone has High Will and Low Skill

I watched my friend resist the urge to buckle her toddler into her stroller.  She could have done it well and much quicker than her little one, but she took a deep breath and said, “Ok, you buckle yourself in just like I showed you.”  The precious little girl smiled up at her and said, “Okay mommy!” with pure joy.   

The same was true with my five-year-old who has wanted so badly to put her hair up in a ponytail holder by herself.   I walked out to the car the other day and she beamed with pride. While waiting for me to load her little brother into his car seat, she had put a piece of her hair up with a ponytail holder. It stuck out the side of her head in an extremely awkward way but she had done it all by herself, and she was proud. 

Both of these sweet little girls had a high will to perform the task at hand.  They wanted to learn and express their ability to do a task with independence.  

Many people you lead maybe like the young child who has a high desire to do the job and do it well but needs help developing the skills to do the job to the standard or pace needed to do it successfully and that takes practice.  

You’re going to have to take a deep breath, be patient, and tolerate a few crooked ponytails before it is done at the speed and standard you want, but it is well worth it in order to maintain the high level of pre and post effort/will.   

Trying to take over or just doing it yourself will kill the will, but being too passive and not providing enough direction will kill it too.  

The model for leadership when someone’s skill level is low but will is high is to teach through an approach that first tells them how to do something; then shows them how to do it; then allows them to do it on their own first with you observing; and then moving to doing it totally independently.   

Tell 🡪 Show 🡪  Do.

For example, someone I work with had a high desire to begin facilitating one-on-one leadership coaching sessions.  She hadn’t ever done it before but did have transferrable skills in working one-on-one with students and adults facilitating career coaching.   She is really good at working with people one-on-one and has a high desire to do this well as it is one of the primary ways she lives out her professional mission statement to make people better through her influence. 

But she was nervous about the content which was novel to her and the method, also novel to her.   

So we employed Tell 🡪 Show 🡪  Do. 

I walked her through the content, method, and tools verbally.  She asked questions and we discussed nuances that might be necessary to consider given the person she was coaching and their needs and environment.  It’s important to note that when someone has a lower level of skill, having tools they can use to help them is a huge help. Instead of telling them, “Oh, just do it this way” you instead give them tools they can also actively deploy as they learn and get better at doing.  

Next, she watched me facilitate about half a dozen sessions utilizing the method and the tool.  We discussed/debriefed after each session, and you could tell she was gaining confidence through observing it being done in real-time with real situations.

Finally, we switched roles and she facilitated about half a dozen sessions while I watched her do it and gave her feedback after each session.  

Now, she does these sessions on her own and she just finished employing the Tell 🡪 Show 🡪  Do model to teach another colleague of ours how to do the same thing.  

It’s really exciting to see how using this method can be used over and over again to help people learn and grow both as the person learning through and as the person teaching it. 

Pretty soon, my five-year-old will be teaching me new tricks about how to put my hair up and my friend’s little girl will be teaching her doll how to buckle up in the stroller.   Teaching a skill when mastery is accomplished helps to continue to drive will in us all. 

How do you build up a person’s skill level when they have a high will to do a job with excellence? 


Note:  Sometimes you can misdiagnosis a low skill level when in fact the issue is not skill-based but confidence based.  Be attuned to distinguishing the ability to do with confidence to do it. For more thoughts on this, read this

Mary Ila Ward

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