Teachable Moments

Sitting in church last Sunday, I observed two quiet, almost-unnoticed scenes of parents instructing and guiding their children, and the children responding beautifully.  This caused me to reflect on the “teachable moments” that come along in our working lives every day and every week — and to wonder how often, in the head-long rush to “get things done” and “move the ball forward,” we see and capitalize on these moments with those we are formally or informally responsible for developing and mentoring in our organizations.

Quiet Instruction (Preparing and Supporting)

Before Mass began, a woman stood at the lecturn quietly instructing two teenage girls.  Only a few soft words were spoken, as she demonstrated how to open the book of readings and then return it to its place — clearly referring back to prior instruction she had given them in preparation for their first public participation on the altar.  The girls observed intently, then repeated the woman’s motions with grace and precision.

When their time came during Mass, they approached the lecturn, opened the readings, and spoke with clarity, confidence, and the enthusiasm of youth, as the woman (perhaps their mother, or perhaps their teacher) smiled in support and pride. It struck me as a wonderful visual example of taking the time in advance to prepare your charges, give them quiet pointers and brief reminders before their big moment, and letting them do on their own, being present for them with support and encouragement.  It was a teachable moment, and lesson for a lifetime.

Remembering “I’ll Do It Myself” Isn’t Always Better

A short while after the girls’ readings, a father and his young son of perhaps 6 or 7 years old struggled into a pew in front of me, well after Mass had begun.  Seeming a bit frazzled in their dash to get to church — hair tousled, jacket slightly askew, and scarf and gloves trailing behind on a bitterly cold morning — they quickly settled in in body and spirit, the young boy smiling at all of the activity going on around him (sitting, standing, kneeling, singing).

Do we seize the quiet "teachable moments" when they come our way?

A few moments later, when it came time for the collection, the son looked up at his father eagerly, expectantly.  The father winked at him and handed over an envelope with their weekly offering, at which the boy beamed — eager to do his part participating with the adults, looking as though this had undoubtedly been an object of discussion and instruction throughout the week.  The usher then came by and the boy proudly deposited the envelope in the basket.

A minute or two later, something unexpected happened.  As it turned out, on this day the church was taking a second collection to support the needs of a particular emergency.  Glancing over at the father and son, this was clearly something they hadn’t anticipated — the father reaching into his wallet, drawing out a few extra dollar bills to contribute to the cause.  The young boy’s participation already completed with the prior offering, it would have been easy to explain — for expediency’s sake — the father dropping the money into the collection basket himself as the usher came by.  Instead, he glanced at his son, winked again, and handed him the bills to contribute — which the son did smiling, his day having been made, again.

Observing this, I had to wonder how many of us — in our roles as formal and informal teachers, coaches, and leaders — take the time (and have the self-discipline and awareness) to allow our junior colleagues to participate (and grow) at times when it would be easier to “do it ourselves.” Or, how many times in the rush of events do we think, “I’ll just get it done and worry about ‘teaching’ my people later — if I remember”?

This is offered today as encouragement to us to be aware of teachable moments — and to take the time to let them happen.  The growth that comes from these moments — for ourselves and those we’re supporting — will often be more powerful than the benefits of “getting things done.” And the lessons can last a lifetime.

What “teachable moments” have you observed, and how have they helped your organization and your team members?  Let’s share some success stories!

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