“What the hell am I doing?” That is me talking to myself in a shocking moment of realization.
I was alone in front of a group of Western Electric managers. We were about to begin a management training seminar. I would be their trainer. There was no co-trainer like I had had before.
The year was 1968. I was 26 years old and this was my first full-time job after graduating from seminary. Many of these men were old enough to be my father. Their body language and facial expressions said it all: who the hell are you to tell me how to do my job?
Of course, they were right. I was the last person who had any credentials to tell them what to do. I had never managed anyone. I had little experience being managed by others. I had never worked in the business world before. I was the least qualified person in the room to tell them how to do their job.
I suddenly realized how ridiculous I must look to a group like this. I started to feel a wave panic, but then an idea popped into my mind.
I slowly looked around the group and made eye contact with each man. Then I spoke my first words.
“If I were one of you,” I said to them, “and I was sitting out where you are sitting right now, and I was looking back up here at me, I would be thinking to myself: who the hell are you to tell me how to do my job.“
Suddenly I saw a room full of eyes pop wide open with surprise. They looked like kids caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Busted! I had read their minds.
I turned the moment into a teaching opportunity to introduce the concept of experiential learning.
I explained to them that I was not an expert in management I was not going to tell them how to do their jobs. I was a facilitator, there to assist them in their own individual learning.
This was the beginning of a major change in how companies train their employees. I did not realize at the time, but my very presence in this situation was an sign of a major sea change that was just beginning to occur in the field of management training.