A teacher’s golden rule: Model the desired behavior

“Never model a swimming stroke when you’re teaching, unless you can do it perfectly,” said my swimming instructor.  “I don’t have a perfect stroke so I try to find people who do and then I ask them to model it.”

I was taking a course in how to teach swimming and this great piece of advice made perfect sense to me.  I never forgot it.

In my work today I am very careful about how to use modeled behavior.  As a workshop instructor, I should know how to model every skill I want the learners to perform, and I’ve gotten pretty good at it.  But I don’t let others model anything unless I have seen them perform.  Practicing a skill is different, as you expect mistakes, which can be fixed through formative feedback, reinforcement and more practice.  But when you model something, you had better do it right.

This often brings up a tricky situation in group role plays. If I have a couple of senior managers in my session, I will pull them aside and tell them, “I don’t need you to role play with your team.  You would be more useful as a coach, so I’ll go over what I would like you to do.”  The risk in having senior people role play is that their team members will think the manager is doing the assigned task perfectly, when in fact he needs as much practice as the others.  It’s a sensitive area.

You might argue, “Why not let the manager role play along with his team so the team sees that everyone needs to practice, and they look up to their manager for joining in the task?”  You would be right, but it’s a close call and by a slight margin I like my way better.  To be fair, I always sound out the managers about this approach.  Certainly if they tell me they want to practice with their team, I let them.

So here’s an easy quiz for you.  Sales are down, and your team needs to step on the gas a bit. Which of these sales meeting approaches do you feel will be most effective in getting some positive traction:

1)       Give your team the data on recent trends and show them how sales are off.  Urge them to work harder.

2)      Decide on some critical behavior you would like them to be dazzlingly skillful at, such as how to open the on-site call, practice it yourself so you do it flawlessly, model it for the group, then have them do it.

3)      Warn them:  “Heads are going to roll if we don’t improve and some of you are not going to be here next year.”

Of course you know the answer is 2, but I’ll bet you’ve also tried 1 and 3 without much success.  The reason 1 and 3 don’t work is that your people will continue to make calls that don’t resonate with the customer, but they may make more of them!  If you want to change behavior, a great approach is to get before the group, model for them the way the behavior should look and sound, then say,  “Okay (name), now you do it for us.”  Give everyone a shot at it.  Finish the meeting by asking for commitments on how your team is going to open their calls from now on.

That’s what a super coach and leader does.

Think Like Your Customer!

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About Gregory LaMothe
I teach people how to sell things. I own the company ActionSystems. Visit my website at www.actionsystemstraining.com.

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