Trainers: Epitome of perfection?

The other day I was facilitating a session on presentation skills. When I was attending the Train the trainer for this session, I remember the master trainer telling us – “In this course, it is not just about you sharing the tips & techniques on how to make a good presentation, but you also need to demonstrate all these skills in the class yourself. While people may learn from what you say, their main learning will come from what they see you do (& of course when they do it themselves).”

True! Your credibility as a trainer often depends on how well you have internalized what you are training on. Imagine a trainer who has an ’emotional hijack’ in the classroom, even as he is telling the participants how to be more ’emotionally intelligent’, or a trainer who just wouldn’t listen and yet is preaching to the participants about the importance of effective communication.

Reminds me of is this popular story of Gandhi and a sugar-eating boy. The story is about a mother who brings her son, a young boy, to M.K. Gandhi and requests him to tell her son that he shouldn’t be eating too much sugar. The boy has great respect for Gandhi, and the mother knew that while he had not heeded to her many requests, Gandhi’s telling him once will do the job. Gandhi asked the lady to come back with the boy after a month. This both surprised and angered the mother, who had traveled a great distance to meet Gandhi. However, she obliged and came back a month later. Gandhi then told the boy, “Boy, you shouldn’t be eating too much sugar. It is not good for your health.” The boy nodded in agreement. The mother was shocked. She confronted Gandhi, “Why did you make me travel back all the way, if all you had to do was tell him not to eat sugar? Why did you not do this the last time I was here?”

Gandhi’s response surprised her, “A month back I was eating a lot of sugar myself. How then could I ask the boy to stop eating sugar? I stopped eating sugar in the last month and therefore now could tell the boy that he needs to too.”

Wise indeed. Be the change you want to see. Walk the talk. Like I said earlier – if you are training on communication skills, make sure you communicate well first.

But then as trainers we are expected to train on a number of topics. While technical training programs are conducted by trainers who are experts on the topic (because they have used the technology/tools themselves), the ‘softer’ behaviour/professional skills training programs are a different ball game. Can we expect trainers, who facilitate these sessions, to be an epitome of perfection – at being emotionally intelligent, managing conflicts, communicating with their stakeholders, asserting themselves, etc.? Is that possible?

I believe not! While yes as trainers we need to have good knowledge of the concepts/content we are training on, and should have some experience of using those concepts (so we can provide examples, share stories and answer questions), I believe a training program can be as much a learning experience for the trainer as it is for the participants.

And that is where I believe we play the role of ‘facilitators’. We facilitate learning. We cannot claim to be experts who have all the answers. We are in the room to facilitate learning via discussions, activities & sharing and the participants add to the learning experience just as much.

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