(This post is written for alumni of LEAD 365, although all are welcome to read it.)

There are four main elements to building great teams:

  • Getting the right people on the bus (and in the right seats).
  • Getting the wrong people off the bus.
  • Developing team members as individuals.
  • Developing them as a team.

In this week’s blog, I want to look at one very important aspect of developing team members as individuals: apprenticing

Leaders worth following apprentice others well. An apprentice is simply one who is learning. But the real question is: how do most people learn best?

For those whom I have coached, we almost always end up talking about the five-step apprenticing model at some point over the course of the year. That model looks like this:

  • Step 1: I do… You watch.
  • Step 2: I do… You help.
  • Step 3: You do… I help.
  • Step 4: You do… I watch.
  • Step 5: You do… Somebody else watches you.

This is so obvious and so much a part of our learning that it is easily overlooked. But whether we are talking about farming, electrical work, accounting, or surgery, some form of this process is used to develop others.

For too many of us, the leadership development process we have most experienced ourselves (or used with others!) is far more abbreviated and goes something like this:

  • Step 1: I do… You watch.
  • Step 2: You do.

It’s a “delegate and abdicate” approach. It’s a hand off of responsibilities without modeling and without relationship. When we short circuit the learning process to those two steps, we set people up for frustration or failure in their work. Genuine apprenticing takes time, investment, relationship, and intentionality. It means walking alongside the person through the learning process instead of handing off and running off.

The real test of the effectiveness of the apprenticing model comes in step 5: Have we apprenticed the next generation of leaders so effectively that they in turn can apprentice the next generation of leaders in the same area?

In James C. Collins’s popular book Built to Last he says this:

We found that the visionary companies did a better job than the comparison companies at developing and promoting highly competent managerial talent from inside the company and they thereby attained greater continuity of excellence at the top through multiple generations [emphasis mine].

What about you? Who on your team do you most want to develop? What would it look like to apply the five-step apprenticing model to a specific area you want to develop in that person? We’d love to hear your stories of who apprenticed you and how you are intentionally apprenticing the next generation of great leaders on your team.


Image by Yellow Sky Photography. Used under CC By-SA 2.0 license.