We go to school to be educated, but does that really happen?
Yes, we attend classes and learn concepts, and there is a transfer of knowledge, hopefully. We get grades and report cards and see if we are making progress. But this feedback may simply be reflective of an ability to memorize the information received and then reproduce it on demand, or perhaps apply it in some more sophisticated way. I think that education is meant to be much more than an information exchange, especially when it comes to educating leaders.
According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “education” is derived from the Latin roots, educo and educare. Educare means “to rear or to bring up”. Educare itself can be traced to the latin root words, e and ducere. Together, ‘e-ducere’ means to “pull out” or “to lead forth”. E-ducere is the rich concept of drawing out that which we can find within. Educating someone, then, is about drawing out the unique gifts and talents that lie within an individual and helping them, as it were, to hone and polish these for the good of that person and for the service of others. Education thought of in this way is much more than information transfer. It’s a highly personal, dignity-elevating and world-enriching process.
There’s a true story told of Edouard Michelin, founder of the Michelin tire company that encapsulates this. In the 1930’s a new employee named Marius Mignol was hired to work in the print shop. He had little education but was a hard worker. Michelin asked the managers why Mignol was just working in the print department. Their response was superficial: Mignol had no formal education or qualifications for anything else. Michelin saw something more in Mignol and told the managers to put him in the foreign sales department and to test him. When his managers questioned why, Michelin memorably responded, “Don’t judge by appearances. Remember that one must break the stone to find the diamond hidden inside.” Mignol was moved, but lacking some math skills to deal with the rapid currency conversion required in the foreign commercial department, he had to be inventive. He created a special slide ruler tool that made the conversions fast and simple – something no one else had done. Michelin noticed this brilliance and asked that Mignol then be moved to the research and development department.
Now at that time, the tire industry was facing a major problem. At high speeds the rubber in tires would heat up and eventually cause the tire to rupture, with disastrous consequences. The challenge was how to fix this issue so that tires could remain operational but be safe at high speeds. Mignol applied his talents and inventive genius and came up with the concept of using high strength steel bands inside the tire, running at criss-crossing angles, to help provide strength and as a way to dissipate the heat being generated. Hence, in 1941 Mignol invented the steel belt radial tire, which completely transformed the tire industry world-wide and is still utilized today.
We naturally admire Mignol and marvel at his gift as an engineering genius, but who is the real hero of the story? In fact, Edouard Michelin is the primary hero because he exhibited a true “education” genius. He gave Mignol the opportunity to be tested and to allow his gifts and talents to emerge. He helped Mignol to recognize those talents and gave him the opportunity to put them into action. In the truest sense, Michelin was an educator for Mignol, and the world is that much better because of it.
How do we apply this to leadership? How do we form and educate leaders today?
Today more than ever, we live in an information age and an information economy. We have access to more information than any other time in history. Yet we continue to experience significant societal challenges which have led many to point to a crisis of leadership. Perhaps we need to rethink leadership education in the more classical way.
While gathering and personally transmitting good information on leadership remains valuable in the formation of new leaders, we primarily must help them to “break the stone to find the diamond hidden inside.” We must seek to teach them to draw out of others, the unique gifts and talents which only they can offer and for which the world will be much better off.
We need to empower more great leaders with this ‘e-ducere’ vision of leadership. While Mignol was a genius and his talents have benefitted the whole world, it was actually Michelin who demonstrated leadership. Certainly leadership involves casting a vision, influencing people, making decisions, and accomplishing a mission, etc., but these can and should be exercised in the context of bringing out the best in those that we lead. If we want more Mignols in the world, we need more Michelins.
Thus, leadership education is much more than the transfer of information; it’s the transformation of individuals. In a faith context, we might refer to this as discipleship. While the disciple learns many ideas and concepts from his or her spiritual mentor, it is in fact the personal transformation taking place in the disciple which is the legacy of leadership.
John Wooden, the most successful NCAA basketball coach of all time, winning ten national championships in twelve years, was noted to say, “Personal greatness for any leader is measured by effectiveness in bringing out the greatness in those you lead.” Leadership education is all about the cultivation of virtue in the lives of those we lead. Great leaders educate those they lead by bringing out the greatness in them, enabling them to achieve heights which the leaders themselves may never experience.
So ask yourself, how are you implementing leadership education with those in your care?