I once volunteered for a local organization whose mission was to motivate students from low-income groups to finish high school and pursue college degree. The leader of my team was John who had been working in the corporate sector for about a decade. John volunteered for the organization because he was passionate about helping children from disadvantaged backgrounds getting ahead in life. Since John had extensive work and volunteer experience, I and my teammates expected John to be making all the decisions. John surprised us in the very first meeting by telling us that we all had complete freedom as to how we could attempt to persuade our assigned clients to stay in school and then go to college. John didn’t only act as a leader but was also responsible for mentoring a client, just like every team member.
We would meet clients twice a week and then discuss our experiences and progress during a weekend meeting led by John. John would ask everyone to describe his/her tools that were employed, the outcome, and any observations they made about the client. After everyone has given a progress report, John would ask each team member as to what he/she might have learnt from the experiences of the co-workers and how he/she may utilize the lessons to fine tune his/her own future approach to clients. John didn’t only encourage team members to learn from each other but also participated in every process himself.
I once asked John during one of the meetings that he has extensive experience so why does he change his mentoring approach after each meeting and John replied that learning is a never-ending process and no amount of experience can free the leader from the need to learn from his peers and subordinates. John explained that by learning from others, the leader doesn’t only expand his/her perspective but also avoids costly mistakes he/she may not have made already. John also claimed that leaders also have human limitations and there is only so much they can monitor or control. Effective leaders consider their subordinates as their eyes and ears who help them better understand both the internal workings of the organizations as well as the external environment.