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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

TOUGH TEACHERS

The following is an excerpt that ran in the Harvard Business Review.  It is a review of a book "Strings Attached" written by Joanne Lipman & Melanie Kupchynsky.  The book is about the importance of tough love and how are best teachers in life have been the toughest.  Here is part of the article below -- you can read it in it's entirety here:
     
1. Banish empty praise.
Mr. K never gave us false praise, and never even used words like “talent.” When he uttered a “not bad” – his highest compliment — we’d dance down the street and then run home and practice twice as long.

It turns out he was on to something.  Harvard Business Review readers will recall the landmark 2007 article written by psychologist K. Anders Ericsson, “The Making of an Expert.”  That piece is most often cited for his pioneering work establishing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice.

But Ericsson also cited two other elements, both of which Mr. K seemed to know intuitively. One is “deliberate practice,” which requires pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone, as opposed to going through the motions.  The other, as Ericsson wrote, is this : True expertise “requires coaches who are capable of giving constructive, even painful, feedback.” And “real experts … deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who could challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance.”

2. Set expectations high.
There’s a tendency to step in when a less experienced colleague is having trouble. Sometimes it seems it’s just easier to do the work yourself. Or to settle for less.

Not in Mr. K’s world.  His standards were uncompromising – and while at first we students found that intimidating, we ultimately understood it was a sign of his confidence in us.  He never wavered in his faith in his students to achieve more and better.  When he first began teaching me the viola, his most frequent admonition was “AGAIN!” most often marked in capital letters on my lesson assignments. But his students knew that he was hard on us not because we’d never learn, but because he was so absolutely certain that we would.

3. Articulate clear goals -and goal posts along the way.
Mr. K insisted that his students audition and perform constantly. He constantly kept us focused on the next challenge.  How would we prepare, and what would we do to improve the next time?  By articulating these intermediate goals, he encouraged us to continually stretch our abilities a bit further while reaching for objectives that were challenging, but ultimately achievable.

4. Failure isn’t defeat.
Mr. K never penalized us for failure. Sometimes we succeeded at auditions; sometimes we failed. But Mr. K made it clear that that failure was simply part of the process – not an end point, but simply an opportunity for us to learn how to improve the next time. And he transferred responsibility for figuring out the solution to the student. His favorite saying wasn’t “Listen to me!” It was, instead, “Discipline yourself!”

Years later, his former students – now doctors, lawyers and business executives – would credit that approach for instilling self-motivation.  As one of his former students told me, “He taught us how to fail – and how to pick ourselves back up again.”

5. Say thank you.
This is the one we often forget. My old teacher had witnessed unspeakable horrors as a child growing up in Ukraine amid bloodshed and destruction during World War II.  He didn’t reach the U.S. until after the war, as a 19-year-old who spoke no English and had never had the opportunity to learn to read music despite his passion for it.  He never lost his sense of gratitude to this country for the opportunities he had, despite a catalog of horrors in his own life, including the disappearance of one of his beloved daughters.  He passed that gratitude on to us, with a huge heart, empathy for the underdog, and a commitment to public service, taking us frequently to perform at hospitals and nursing homes and then insisting we stay to visit with the patients.