What’s Your Teachable Moment?

As an executive and team coach – or a CEO –  you are can always use teachable moments. They are the  times when you can draw a straight line between some moment of reality that’s staring you in the face in the here-and-now and a concept or principle you’ve been trying to teach.

Teachable moments come at any time, though they seldom have a predictable schedule. Not unlike “special times” with kids, the entry price is you have to be around and be present to enjoy both: there is no “we’re going to have a teachable moment in the next 2 hours” sort of timing. They come, they go, and if you have any luck you leverage them for all they’re worth.

And there are no subject limiters about teachable moments: they can about business, personal ethical choices, or just plain day-to-day living. They can be big, they can be small. And they are all very, very real.

That value is in that straight-line connection: here’s the principle, and here in real life is the example. For adults, even more importantly that kids, having a context to frame a issue is critical because that’s how adults learn best. Kids can often learn moral and ethical choices in casual conversation. Adults learn them when they observe the proverbial rubber meeting the road in context. You can do “what if” and “what would” scenarios all day but what provides the strongest imprint is “what is.”

My friend Gail Covington mentioned not too long ago that she had one such moment with her son William, who my son Traylor has known since they were both age 2 and in the same preschool together – a school connection that continues today now that they’re in grade school together.

Mom,” William now 7 1/2 apparently reported, “One of our teachers at school mentioned that some families are headed by two dads or two moms. But I don’t know any families that are gay or lesbian.”

“What about Aunt Judy and Aunt Joy?” Gail replied. “And what about Traylor’s pop and dad?”

“I guess you’re right about that” William responded. “I’d never really thought about it before.”

“Guess you hadn’t,” Gail said. “So now when someone uses those words you’ll know who they’re talking about.”

The purpose of any teachable moment is to affirm some point you’ve been advocating – to help someone see the connection between the way they act or think, and the repercussions or consequences of that behavior.

And sometimes that teachable moment is for yourself.

As a former collegiate basketball player, I love everything about the March Madness of the men’s and women’s US collegiate basketball tournament.

Everything, except a few of the coaches, whose clay feet I suspect I see too readily, and certainly too eagerly. Perhaps it’s because I am a coach, though clearly not of the sports variety. Part of it I suspect is that those of us in the coaching business – business and sports alike – should have a standard of behavior higher than the general public: we shouldn’t cop out with “do as I say, not as I do.”

The New York times reported today that “sports has so many lessons to teach.” Mine came yesterday, watching the men’s Duke team blow-out West Virginia, coached by Bob Huggins.

Huggins, to put it charitably, has had some interesting career twists and turns. Some of those turns include a notorious DUI arrest, jilting Kansas State after a year to return to his alma mater West Virginia, and having, while at the University of Cincinnati,  graduating seniors with a 0.00 grade point average.

While I know were are all mixed bags, I was quick to judge that Huggins was more mixed than others. I have had people more than once note that I have high standards for myself, and standards that are pretty high for others as well. And when I mapped Huggins to those standards I saw TV-armchair-watching deficiencies.

The teachable moment for me? Seeing the very human side – the “Huggy Bear” part of Huggins who could express deep care for one of his players. That part – the filmed part here – was the teachable moment for me.

And the teaching for me? Give people more of benefit of the doubt – and remember mixed bags are just that – mixed bags.

Life Back West is an occasional set of writings focused on ways people, teams and organizations can be both more effective (doing the right thing) and more efficient (doing the right thing well). More about executive and team coaching services can be found at the “About J. Mike Smith and Back West, Inc.” sidebar or the “Hire Me” tab above.