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Teach them how to fish

As a coach, I have the privilege to work with a range of leaders helping them to see ways forward. One of my leaders last week explained her approach with staff. She said, “I give them a fishing rod not a fish.” I love this metaphor and asked her if I could share it with others.

So imagine the scene of this brilliant metaphor. A quayside. There are two groups of six people. An experienced fisherman heads up each group.

Group number one. The experienced fisherman with his rod catches fish. Every time he gets a fish he hands it to the 5 people sitting next to him. The rate of fish catching is limited to the one fisherman.

Group number two. The experienced fisherman with his rod catches fish and as he does so he explains to them his techniques. He takes each one in turn and gets them to have a go whilst he watches and helps. He then hands them a rod and gets them to go solo, advising where needed. This time the rate of fish caught increases dramatic as eventually all six are catching fish.

When it comes to catching fish, the merits of this are obvious. When it comes to leading others there are merits too.

So, what if we developed this approach in leadership? What are the merits of giving them a rod and teaching them how to fish? What do we need to develop this?

This approach is apprenticing or discipling them. To turn the metaphor into a strategic leadership approach it requires a 4P approach.

  • Purposeful Intent

  • Planned Process

  • Pinpoint opportunities to root the practice

  • Periodical Review

Purposeful Intent

It has been said that ‘the greatest role of a leader is not to create followers but to create more leaders’. As I look back on my career, one of the proudest parts is the number of people who worked for me who are now headteachers or senior leaders in schools. (I think it is now 13!) When we generate more leaders we expand the influence of our thinking. This has to be purposeful and intended. If we don’t intentionally do this, and we just keep nurturing them and feeding them we will just end up continuing to nurture and feed them. We remain mummy bird to their baby bird. When we purposefully plan to develop others we value them and empower them.

Planned Process

This starts by modelling what you expect to see. Like Karate Kid the movie, you act like Mr Miyagi teaching them what quality is. As you model it, ideally an explanation of the skills you are using and why you are using them, helps them to see and understand best practice. You then take them through a gradual process of handing the skill over as you ‘apprentice’ or ‘disciple’ them in best practice.

  • I do, you watch

  • I do, you help

  • You do, I help

  • You do, I watch

You then move them on to do the same to others

  • You do, you help others

Pinpoint opportunities to root the practice & embed the learning

As I look back in my career, right at the start of it was in my teenage years where my PE teacher said “come and help me train a rugby team” and then got me to do some of the training and my youth leader said, “come and help me run a children’s group,” and then let me run sessions. Nothing beats giving opportunities to do it for yourself, to put things into practice and learn from mistakes and get feedback.

Periodical Review

Feedback from those you are working with and feedback from your leader allows you to see what is working well and what could be even better. To create this you need relationship, where the person knows your feedback is to lift them up, to help them become even better.

So what are the benefits of this approach?

When we purposefully plan to develop others we value them and empower them. They feel trusted and work hard for you. The benefits for you are that some of the workload is taken on, allowing you to concentrate on some of your strategic work. The benefits for the organisation is that leadership spreads to all parts of the organisation and any initiative you are working on is likely to be more effective. This approach helps you develop the leadership culture. You move people from Dependent Leaders to Independent Leaders to Interdependent Leaders capable of driving things forward themselves once they know the core values.

So what is going to be. You doing all the fishing and they eat the fish? Or do you want to develop your leaders to take the load too.

Everyday Leader consultancy, coaching and training can help you develop your leadership culture. We look forward to working with you and helping you to develop your leaders. Contact to arrange a no-obligation chat.


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