“Moose” was an Army football player and student of mine when I was privileged to be teaching aerospace engineering at West Point. Back then, chalkboards were a staple of our instructional tools, e-mail was a fledgling concept, and the Internet was barely present in the day-to-day.
One morning, I was charged with a block of instruction that included deriving the equations of motion for an aircraft (six degrees of freedom). It starts with F=ma and concluded, 45 minutes later, with 13 chalkboards full of precisely derived equations in five chalk colors, and written in straight lines sufficiently precise that Swiss watchmakers could have used the boards to calibrate their time pieces.
Moose lingered at the end of class, prompting me to ask him…”great discussion today, right?”
He paused, squared his shoulders, and shared, “Sir, yes, the derivation was beautiful. A work of art. But, I didn’t learn a thing.” Moose may not realize, but in that moment he taught me something profound, and that I continue to remind myself in the work LGL Leadership does every day.
You see, folks often ask us at the end of an engagement, “So, how do you think it went?” I channel my best Moose and tell the story of my failed instructional period. It isn’t important how I think it went. Rather, if the folks who’ve surrendered treasure and time, if they learned something that can be applied in their personal and professional lives, we’ve succeeded.
So, to the self-proclaimed experts and “leading thinkers” about anything…that you’re asked and are sometimes paid to share what you know doesn’t make you an expert on anything. Please…knock it off. Take down those silly self-promoting headlines about who you are and what you know, roll up your sleeves, find someone eager to learn, and do the best you can. THEY get to decide just how expert you are, and if you do a good job helping them learn something or make their organizations better, they’ll probably ask you back. Rinse. Repeat.
Like so many things in leadership, it isn’t about the leader, it’s about the led.