On Training Leaders to Surpass You

Wanting those that we train to become better than us is clearly a very noble and true aspiration. But in reality? Well, our insecurities and ego put that aspiration to the test. How many of us have inadvertently checked the growth of others, either through a thoughtless word or comment, or more often simply by forgetting that we also started out by not knowing much and by making mistakes.

Earlier this year I had the privilege of working with some inspirational young leaders in Cape Town on the Laureus Youth Empowerment Scheme (YES). Enjoying the rustic inspiration of the Team House which nestles at the bottom of the legendary Chapman’s Peak and overlooks the white expanses of Noodihoek beach, the model of the programme is beautifully simple and yet hugely ambitious; train the best young leaders from Sport for Good projects across South Africa and beyond, and then train the top from programme graduates to become the future facilitators.

This is the ultimate model of sustainability – creating a pool of young leaders with the skills, beliefs and passion to unlock leadership potential in others.

CoCreate’s role was to design the training for the first cohort of new programme facilitators – and so myself and my brilliant CoCreator Anathi found ourselves working alongside four incredibly talented young leaders who were YES programme alumni over the last four years.

Anathi and I talked a lot about avoiding the trap of setting up a hierarchical learning culture – where the teacher must have the answers. Why? Well, if no one can know more than or progress past the teacher, then the teacher becomes the cap of all learning and sets the limits of progress. Once the teacher becomes the limit, it can become difficult for learners to reach their full potential.

Instead our job is surely to share our knowledge in a way that enables learners to to launch themselves higher and further than we ever can. In this way the teacher becomes not the cap but the spring, watching as learners take on board what we can offer and soar away from us.

I spent three days training these four brilliant facilitators, and one week working with them on the YES programme. Over the week I wrestled with my smaller instincts – to nit-pick, to want to things done a certain way, mainly my way. And yet, when I stepped back and held my tongue, offered an encouraging word and a little direction, I began to see that they had their own ideas and approaches. That they didn’t need to only reproduce what I was doing, but instead to take it on and add to it, evolve it, even change it. And in those moments of watching them, I realised that I had become the learner. And I began taking notes as I watched them, less for them and more for me.

My lesson in all of this? That by offering them the right level of support with enough autonomy, they were flourishing. I didn’t always get it right, and I’m still on the journey to let go more, to trust more, and to strive more to be the spring and not the cap.