12 April 2010

Peter Drucker: the Ultimate NCO

Peter Drucker has advised his clients to ask subordinates to define their jobs. This isn't a way for workers to reduce the demands on them. Instead, it’s a way for managers to communicate job requirements to their workers.

It's brilliant, actually; though I'd be very surprised if many managers ever do it. I'd be downright stunned to learn of any Soldiers who do it.

At drill this weekend, a perfect opportunity came up, when complex instructions went out in a flurry, and the junior enlisteds went about trying to please their NCOs. All good so far, but an intermediate step could have been for the NCO to simply ask the Soldier, "What are you going to do?"

It reminded me of times I have moved on in a classroom lesson, almost sure in the knowledge that my students didn't understand exactly what the task was.

Why do I do this? Well, I don't think I do it often, but when I do it might be for a variety of reasons:

1. I might be afraid to get confirmation that my students don't know the task. Pure denial—the first phase of any pathology.

2. Maybe I feel rushed for time, and I don't want to burn it by asking questions.

3. Perhaps I assume that my instruction has been absolutely unambiguous, and it doesn't even occur to me to give a student the opportunity to deflate that delusionary bubble.

In fact, in my classroom, I do it often, though all three reasons tempt me not to. But the confirmation that my students don't know something early on should be music to my teaching ears. And of what use is my time if students aren't learning? Of course I do suffer from the egotism that claims student shortcomings are all their fault, and none of mine.

Army leaders should follow Drucker's advice. Take it from a teacher, understanding is key.

Too often an officer or NCO will assume that a single recital of verbal instruction should land in Soldier brains like a fly on flypaper-- stuck. But it is always the case that instructions and commands are more clearly formulated in the mind of the issuer than that of the receiver. And more important.

Teachers and Soldiers can learn a thing or two...or a thousand...from Drucker. Having subordinates articulate their understanding of tasks will help reconcile the differences. It will improve learning and performance.

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