The Last Time for the First Time


When is the last time you did something for the first time? A month ago I was certified as an indoor group cycling instructor at our local Y. I've been a road cyclist for years but guiding others through an intense 45 minute workout synchronized with loud pulsing music at 6 am in the morning? That's a first.

There's more to to it than meets the eye considering we're on stationary bikes that go nowhere. First I have to create a playlist of hip tunes that don't offend. (I've recruited my teenage daughter as a consultant in this area.) Then I have to match the workout to the music--slow and rhythmic for the hills, fast and motivational for the sprints. Finally I have to manage the different fitness levels of my class while monitoring hydration, proper technique and room temperature. Overwhelming, I know. At least for a novice like me.

Ken Blanchard has developed a marvelous Situational Leadership model that maps out the adult learning cycle. We start off as enthusiastic beginners who don't yet know what we don't know. That was me signing up to get certified as a spin instructor: What a great way to get a fun winter workout close to home!

As the gung-ho beginner begins to understand just how much work is involved, she gets that sinking uh-oh sensation of a disillusioned learner: What was I thinking? I don't have time for this! This isn't fun at all.

However, with a few classes under her belt and no major disasters yet, the capable but cautious performer is starting to feel: I think I can do this but will it ever get easier?

One day she finds herself wondering: Am I forgetting something? That seemed too easy. She now has the capability and confidence of a self-reliant achiever. (For the record, I'm not there yet.)

As leaders we tend to assume we need to be the experts, to always have the answers. That ain't necessarily so. In reality we are continually going through the learning cycle described above as we encounter one new challenge after another.

Blanchard's Situational Leadership model primarily addresses how we as leaders can diagnose and then meet the needs of our people on a situation-specific basis. What I love most about the model is when we turn it around and use it on ourselves. It gives us permission to be lifelong learners. It makes it okay to experience the frustration that is a natural part of the cycle. It is also a great tool for self-coaching and self-advocacy on a new task: Where am I in the learning process? At this stage what do I need (or not need) from my boss, my peers, my direct reports?

In doing this for ourselves, we are also modeling that perpetual and persistent learning is an integral part of leadership.

Your turn. What's the last thing you did for the first time? How'd it go?

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