22. Learn Lessons – 21 Success Sutras for Leaders

Chapter Twenty Two

Learn Lessons

There are no mistakes or failures, only lessons.


Denis Waitley

You can learn lessons from the experiences of great leaders. You can learn lessons through various means such as reading books, observing others, listening, teaching, training and experience. However, if you learn from every source except through your own experience, you will reach your goal much faster and in a far smarter way than others. The significance of this book lies in its emphasis on learning lessons from others’ experiences rather your own. However, at the end of the day we still learn lessons from our own experiences, and that is what life is all about, as others have to learn from our experiences as well.

Apart from learning from others’ and our own experiences, it is also essential to impart leadership education to students and executives constantly in order to enhance their leadership skills and abilities. Hence, we will dwell at length on leadership education in this concluding chapter.

Leadership Education

Life is no brief candle for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

George Bernard Shaw

Teaching has undergone drastic changes with changing times and technologies. The expectations and aspirations of students are rising dramatically. Educators find it tough to understand and anticipate the expectations of students. The teaching styles that worked in the past no longer work in the current context as the twenty-first century demands totally different styles of teaching to suit the learning styles of the students.

Teaching Style

Ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.

Nikos Kazantzakis

There are no quick-fix teaching styles for students. Educators have their own teaching styles as per their mindsets. Their teaching style also depends on the profile of the students. However, teaching must contain a blend of lecture, case study discussion, fieldwork, business simulations, presentations by students and interaction. Whatever the teaching style may be, the bottom line is to help the students hone their problem-solving, analytical, conceptual and thinking skills.

Educators change their teaching styles with each session, depending on the topic and profile of the students. It is necessary to discover the learning styles of students and match their teaching styles accordingly. They establish learning goals and outcomes, and provide a learning structure. From time to time, they ask students whether they prefer watching visuals or listening to verbal cues, and then adopt their teaching style accordingly. For instance, educators ask students whether they prefer viewing board or powerpoint presentations, or are comfortable with just lecturing. From their responses, educators can gauge whether students would rather listen or view the board, and then mould their teaching styles accordingly.

Although the act of teaching remains the same, there are changes made when teaching at the primary level, the school level, undergraduate, graduate or post-graduate levels. It also changes as per the subject. Above all, it depends on the experience and comfort level of the educators. For instance, when we look at the management education system, we find that it needs interaction with students rather than the conventional classroom teaching methodology.

Role of Educators in the Twenty-first Century

Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theatre.

Gail Goldwin

As per the current scenario, educators must emphasize learning that is student-centric, not educator-centric. Students appreciate educators who deliver what is needed to them, not what is known to the educators themselves. There is a need to emphasize cooperative and hands-on learning.

The educators must ask students about their expectations from time to time to gauge their needs and improve their teaching styles. It is essential to emphasize teaching styles that focus on non-lecturing methods for a better impact on students. Showing film clips, shooting questions at and seeking inputs from students in the classroom help immensely towards qualitative teaching.

The flow of the content must be smooth during teaching. Students like to be encouraged. Effective educators enhance the quality of thinking among the students. They raise the bar, and motivate and inspire their students. This is indeed a tough task for any educator. Once this objective has been achieved, students develop respect for their educators and are open to absorbing the content without any mental barriers. Educators must convince students though their passionate teaching. However, this is easier said than done.

However experienced educators might be, they must spend some time preparing the structure of their presentation. This structure again depends on the maturity level of the audience. There is no fixed structure as it depends on the domain and the mindset of the educator. Educators must be flexible enough to change their teaching styles from time to time by gauging the body language of the participants. If they find that the body language of the students is not positive, they need to change their style of delivery; and it is also, in these situations, advisable to make the teaching sessions more interactive. Once the students are brought back on track, the educators must deliver the content. If the educators find that the participants are not following the teaching process, it is also desirable to resort to storytelling or include humour to grab their attention so as to get the content across.

While teaching, educators must show students the benefits of learning. They must emphasize the content from the perspective of students. They must structure their teaching from a career perspective as well.

The educators must always consider the extent to which the content is relevant and useful to students. They must have clarity of mind about the concepts and their application from a practical perspective. Students appreciate those educators who relate the concepts and content from real life rather than from a theoretical perspective. They appreciate educators who are passionate and speak from their heart. They can easily spot their educators’ command over the subject.

Mode of Teaching

Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.

Benjamin Franklin

Educators must teach in a way that helps students get out of rote learning and into creative learning, where they feel comfortable learning the subject. They must widen the intellectual horizons of students by introducing them to real-life applications, as it enhances competencies and capabilities. They must conduct exercises, activities and role-plays to ensure meaningful learning. Regular assessments and self-assessment questionnaires will also help students know where they stand.

While teaching or training, educators must ensure that their talking time is limited to around 60 to 70 per cent of the session. The rest of the time should be given over to role-plays, activities, team presentations and exercises. If the talking time falls below 50 or rises over 80 per cent, students will not enjoy the session and there will be no takeaways. Hence, training and teaching requires a blend of various methodologies that are situational and subject to the maturity level of the audience, as well as the time duration, the mood and body language of the students. Above all, the teachers and trainers must look at the changing body language of the participants and mould themselves and their methodology as per the situation; which is why this can be termed situational teaching and training.

In teaching and training, there is no quick-fix content or methodology. Everything depends on the profile and maturity level of the audience, the prevailing time factor and the duration of the session. Besides, we need to look at the post-lunch and evening sessions where the intake of inputs will be lower, as participants are likely to feel sleepy and tired at these times. Hence, it is essential to engage the audience in role plays and experiential learning, and include humour. More of lecturing and imparting of knowledge is better appreciated during the pre-lunch session, as this is the time when students can take in maximum theoretical aspects and concepts. As the day stretches on, it is ideal—and essential—to include experiential learning and activities.

Situational Educator

A good teacher is like a candle—it consumes itself to light the way for others.


There are four main types of teachers in classrooms today. According to Dr Phelan and Sarah Jane Schonour, there are authoritarian, permissive, detached and authoritative teachers.1

Educators must be situational, that is, they should be able to change their styles as per the situation, and have a flexible mindset. Situational educators are those who adopt an authoritative style when students disturb the class despite repeated requests and instructions. The educators’ intention is to ensure classroom discipline. They adopt a permissive style when they deliver the content to students to ensure effective takeaways. This style helps in interacting with students and getting the best out of them. The detached style works best when students are capable of handling things by themselves and when class-work is given to them, which they can concentrate on smoothly. It also gives them enough freedom to discuss assignments and activities with their colleagues and get the work done. Finally, the situational educators must be authoritative ones, who walk the talk and command respect from students. To sum up, situational educators must be flexible and adaptable to ensure effective takeaways for students. This includes changing their teaching style as well as their behaviour, which must be well-tuned to the body language of the students.

Humour Quotient and Teaching

The current complexity and ambiguity calls for a Humour Quotient (HQ). It seems that people are so busy with their daily chores that they often forget to smile. This is one of life’s ironies. Even students are not spared this complexity and ambiguity. They come under a lot of pressure while studying, and sometimes find it boring and taxing to listen to the educators. Hence, there is a need for HQ on the part of the educators to lighten the classroom environment in order to refresh students. Students get charged up once they enjoy jokes. However, this should not become too frequent as the classroom would then turn into a mockery.

Humour plays a crucial role as it breaks the boredom in the classroom. It wakes the students up and enhances their attention levels. Therefore, it is essential to include humour while teaching to refresh the students. But the humour must be timely, apt and relevant, so that the students can enjoy it and then return to the listening mode in the classroom.

Teaching and Cooking

Benevolence alone will not make a teacher, nor will learning alone do it. The gift of teaching is a peculiar talent, and implies a need and a craving in the teacher himself.

John Jay Chapman

Teaching is like cooking food. As a cook prepares delicious food by mixing all the ingredients proportionately, the educator must cater to the content by blending various styles and types in tune with the tastes and temperaments of the participants. The educator must blend lecture, audio-visual pictures, interaction, role play, and other ingredients to impart knowledge to the students. In fact, students look to be served tailor-made teaching and content on a platter from educators.

Educators must encourage research, and analytical, conceptual, and decision-making and leadership skills among the students. They must create case studies on a few topics and give the students assignments, so that the latter can carry out their own research on topics related to the case study and come out with viable and feasible solutions.

Teaching Tips

A teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the pupil with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.

Horace Mann

When we observe the learning styles of students, we find that there are visual learners, auditory learners, kinesthetic learners, and so on, among them. The visual learners require more of board usage or prefer to learn through pictures; auditory learners enjoy listening to lectures peppered with stories, anecdotes and examples; and kinesthetic learners learn through hands-on activities. The educators must learn the learning styles of students before imparting knowledge, as it will help to get the content across quickly and effectively. Besides, culture also plays a crucial role in deciding the learning styles of students. Therefore, there is a need to structure the teaching style as per the learning style and culture of the people. Given below are a few more teaching tips:

  • The educators must demonstrate friendliness and warmth visa-vis their students to build rapport in order to ensure effective takeaways.
  • Cue cards help educators to structure the teaching content; otherwise, they lose the sequence. It also helps them to not forget the key contents during teaching.
  • While teaching, emphasize key ideas three times to reach the various types and levels of the audience. If required, they must quiz, question and grill students to get the best out of them.
  • They should not load students with too much information at a time. They must provide the information to students piecemeal, so that the latter can ruminate over what had been discussed and taught in the class.
  • If students yawn, it is time for the educators to pull up their socks. It is time to shift the gears of teaching to other levels so as to get students back on track.
  • Any teaching should be student-led, not teacher-led. Include a questionnaire or self-assessment exercise, or tales that contain comedy, tragedy, fun and frolic to provide an extra touch to teaching.
  • As after every training programme, a Kirkpatrick evaluation is done. After every teaching session, it is vital to take informal feedback for further improvement in teaching.

Post-Teaching Activity

It is not what is poured into a student that counts but what is planted.

Linda Conway

After the teaching session, it is essential to reinforce the learning. There are several ways in which educators can reinforce learning. For instance, they can ask students to summarize what had been learnt. It helps the students to dig deep within to what they had learnt. In addition, when a student summarizes, other students listen to the content and this reinforces their learning as well. It has multiple benefits for students and educators, too, as the latter gets a feedback on what the students had assimilated. It helps educators to learn the content from a new perspective and changes their teaching methodology further, and is also useful for further research in that specific area.

Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline and Teaching

We … spend so much time coping with problems … that we forget why we are on that path in the first place. The result is that we only have a dim, or even inaccurate, view of what’s really important to us.

Peter M. Senge

Internationally, particular personalities are associated with a specific area of specialization. When we recall a particular personality, we can easily relate her/him with a specific area of expertise, and vice versa. For instance, Daniel Goleman is associated with emotional intelligence, Philip Kotler with marketing, John Adair with Ac&Leadership, and Peter Senge with Fifth Discipline. Peter Senge highlighted organizational learning in his magnum opus The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization (1990).

According to Senge, ‘A learning organization is a place where people are continually discovering how they create their reality.’ He says that organizations are dynamic and continuously adapt and improve themselves. As individuals improve their learning curve, organizations too must do the same. He explains that learning about organizations involves five disciplines: personal mastery, mental modes, shared vision, team learning and systems thinking. Let us see how these disciplines can be used in the classroom for the benefit of both students and educators. The educators can effectively use these five factors to teach their students better. For instance, students can learn the concepts through personal mastery by mastering both the contents and the concepts. Educators can involve students in interactions wherein students apply their mental modes for better clarity. Third, educators can often highlight the common objectives of learning by sharing the collective vision of the students. Fourth, educators can encourage students to form groups in the classroom, and discuss and ensure learning outcomes. Finally, educators can take informal feedback from students to make both teaching and learning better; and this is a type of systems thinking. We shall deal with the same in some detail.

Teaching in the ‘Fifth Discipline’ Way

  • When we talk of mental modes, it is all about the students reflecting upon what has been taught in the classroom through mental pictures and visualization. It enhances their retention of the concepts, paving the way towards relating reel content with real-life applications. It builds confidence and promotes analytical thinking.
  • Educators must emphasize personal mastery, with their teaching styles tailored in such a way that students are able to reinforce their learning.
  • Often, it is essential for educators to remind students to share their vision behind joining the course and the objectives behind the classroom session, as it makes them more accountable and responsible towards learning. It also helps them to focus on learning objectives and achieve the desired outcomes.
  • Team learning helps in the effective transfer of knowledge and generates even more knowledge. Educators must involve students in team learning so they can discuss and challenge the ideas and information for further research. Numerically speaking, one plus one is two. However, when we talk in terms of teaching, it is more than two and probably even more than 11. In this context, it is rightly said that when two people exchange an apple, they still have one apple in their hands. However, when they exchange ideas, they will have two ideas each, as each individual acquires an extra idea through the exchange.
  • Educators must look at the overall improvement of classroom teaching by assessing the learning needs of the students. They must tune their teaching styles as per the different learning styles of students to ensure effective teaching in the classroom. Hence, it is essential to take inputs from the students informally, to make things better. This is known as systems thinking from the perspective of Peter Senge.

So both educators and students can take a leaf out of Peter Senge’s five disciplines for understanding the concepts and their application, in order to reap rich rewards in real life.

Twenty-first Century Teaching

The best teachers teach from the heart, not from the book.


Students of the twenty-first century are more mature than those of the twentieth century as they are more exposed to technology and modern gadgets. They are highly receptive to technology and expect their educators to be technology savvy. Therefore, a bigger challenge lies ahead for educators in the twenty-first century.

Twenty-first century educators should not get complacent with traditional teaching and training methodologies. They need to upgrade their skills and abilities continuously and constantly to match their teaching tools and techniques with the learning styles of their students. In addition, diversity is another issue; in educational institutions, students of different cultures, ethnicities, religions, regions and races come together. Educators need to compete with themselves rather than with their colleagues to stand out in teaching.

Twenty-first century teaching demands new tools and techniques that are relevant in the current context. What worked in the past might not work in the future. Hence, there is a strong need to reinvent teaching and training methodologies to create leaders and managers.

The twenty-first century belongs to knowledge workers. It is they who will lead the world and guide mankind successfully into the twenty-second century. Twenty-first century education calls for knowledge creation, knowledge sharing, knowledge dissemination, knowledge application and knowledge reinvention. Those who do not contribute creativity and innovation in twenty-first century education can perhaps be called illiterates.

Role of Educators in Shaping Students as Leaders

Education is the mother of leadership.

Wendell L. Willkie

Educators must prepare students to assume leadership roles and responsibilities. They must share the several leadership lessons they learnt the hard way with their students in order to groom them as leaders. Students now are likely to face much bigger challenges than their predecessors. Hence, educators must equip students with the knowledge that will help them face challenges squarely.

Leadership and Storytelling

In unsettled times like these, … we could benefit from the reminder that storytelling is common to all civilizations. … [T]he story is our most ancient method of making sense out of experience and of preserving the past.

William Collins

Since time immemorial, human beings have been fascinated by stories. They enjoy listening to stories that help them relate fictional content with real life. It helps them to visualize things through pictures and connect with the content faster, thus creating an impression that lasts longer. The human brain can quickly retrieve information as and when needed when information is imparted through storytelling.

Storytelling is indeed an art. Not everyone can speak fluently with clarity. Although storytelling is a skill that can be honed by training, it basically needs a lot of passion on the part of the speaker to put an effort into telling tales. It involves various things, such as analysing the profile and mood of the audiences. Understanding the duration, time, cultures and context makes a lot of difference. Therefore, storytelling involves a lot many things that are not easy to enumerate. Above all, what is essential is the ability to articulate content as per the context, and the ability to inspire audiences by getting the message across aptly.

When we look at charismatic leaders, we see that their forte is storytelling, although there are various other ingredients, such as charm, communication, etiquette and dress code, that form the core of charismatic leadership. They make extensive use of stories to impress their audiences, and share several anecdotes to connect with their audience quickly. They attract and impress audiences through the usage of metaphors and analogies. The founder of the cosmetics company Mary Kay Inc. used metaphors extensively to get the message across effectively.

Storytelling is an important ingredient in effective communication, especially in leadership development programmes. It is a powerful leadership development tool as leadership is a learning skill. During leadership training programmes, trainers tell tales to connect with their audiences to impart leadership skills and abilities. Trainers speak in a language that fits the level of the audience and roll out appropriate tales to inspire their participants. There are companies that hire storytelling consultants with an expertise in telling tales, and unveil anecdotes before their senior executives. However, a few top business leaders themselves know the knack of storytelling. For instance, the late Steve Jobs of Apple knew how to connect with his audiences through storytelling. He was a charismatic business leader who emphasized innovation. He continuously worked for changes in technology and innovated to stay ahead of the competition.

Stories provide mental pictures through which the audience can relate easily to the information. The stories must focus on the leaders who hit rock bottom and bounced back from failures, as they inspire the audience. In addition, it must also convey the messages that stem from failures in leadership.

During storytelling, keep your language as simple as possible. Craft your own stories, rather than taking them from others. You can also take the things that happened around your life and weave them into beautiful stories with well-defined and meaningful messages.

Russell Banks noted, ‘Storytelling is an ancient and honorable act …. It’s one that I embrace wholeheartedly ….’ Professional speakers learn the knack of storytelling as their sessions are incomplete without it. Film stars are often smart at storytelling, as it is part of their profession to deliver dialogues.

Storytelling is an age-old art of attracting and inspiring people. It is also an integral part of leadership development programmes, where leaders must learn this art to inspire their people at the workplace. Storytelling is an art that is partly learned and partly inborn. Donna Tartt once remarked, ‘The storytelling gift is innate: one has it or one doesn’t. But style is at least partly a learned thing ….‘

Merits of Storytelling

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.

Robert McAfee Brown

The merits of storytelling are:

  • Grabs the attention of the audiences quickly.
  • Connects people together.
  • Establishes rapport with the audiences.
  • Gets the message across quickly.
  • Helps in the pictorial presentation of information and in retaining it for a longer time.

Tales help to connect with the audiences quickly as they contain emotions and imagination. Successful educators or leaders know the knack of telling stories.

Henry Brooks Adams said, ‘A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.’ It requires a lot of courage to become an educator as it is not for everybody. If a parent is unworthy, children are spoiled; if a doctor neglects his duty, the patient dies; if an engineer performs poorly, the infrastructure collapses; and if an educator makes a mistake, an entire generation is ruined. To summarize, the twenty-first century needs educators who are passionate and who can walk the talk and constantly reinvent teaching tools and technologies to make a difference in the lives of others in this century, as well as handholding mankind successfully into the twenty-second century.

Three Tales to Tell

Storytelling is what lights my fire.

Hope Davis

Always tell three types of stories: your personal tale, professional tale and a social tale. In the personal tale, talk about where you want to reach in your personal life. This will elevate your position as a storyteller and make you stand out from the pack. In the professional tale, talk about where you would like to take your organization or the people you lead. Finally, in the social tale, talk about the vision and mission you have towards the betterment of society and mankind. For instance, you want to make a difference in society by transforming the lives of the people by sharing your knowledge. Every individual must make these three contributions to make life meaningful.