Apprenticeship is the second phase of the Leadership Development Process.
The idea of Apprenticeship seems quaint and dated now, but there was a time when it was primary method by which any skill worth having was passed on from man to man. Whether it was butcher, baker or candlestick maker, an aspirant to any trade had to find a willing master under whom he could apprentice. In consideration for the opportunity to learn the trade, an apprentice would provide the master cheap labor around the shop. Put another way, the apprentice’s wages were primarily paid by the master with the opportunity to obtain a vocation.
The Three Steps Of The Apprenticeship Method
Although the specific instruction would obviously vary with the nature of the skill being transferred, the same simple three-phase method applies to any apprenticeship: watch-help-do:
• First, the apprentice watches
• Then he helps
• Finally he does
Take a new and wholly inexperienced apprentice to a seasoned master cordwainer . On the first day of his apprenticeship he knows nothing of the skill of shoemaking other than what he gleaned from having worn shoes on his own feet most of his life. Thus, at the outset of his apprenticeship he can contribute little to the master’s work other than to perform the menial tasks ubiquitous to any workplace. This is the watch-phase of the apprentice’s development into a cordwainer during which he learns the process of shoemaking from observing it being performed by the master.
The Watch Phase
During the watch-phase, the master is strict with the apprentice, insisting that his menial tasks are performed to an exacting Standard and Correcting him sharply for departures from the prevailing workplace culture and decorum. In this way, the master instills in the apprentice the strong positive work habits that are required of an artisan who must ultimately discipline himself to be successful. From the very outset, the master prepares the apprentice for the day when he himself will be a master.
The Help Phase
After a time, when the apprentice has seen enough of shoemaking that he has an overall understanding of what the process looks like, the master transitions him into the help-phase by having him physically contribute to the making of a shoe. Gradually, the amount of the apprentice’s workday spent on menial tasks decreases as he contributes an increasing amount of his time to actual shoemaking. By helping with each aspect of making a shoe, the apprentice acquires the tangible skills required to properly perform the entire process himself.
As the apprentice’s skill increases during the help-phase, the master also gradually relaxes their workplace relationship, giving the apprentice increasing discretion in the use of his time and letting him self-apply to his work the Standards that the master rigorously taught him during the help-phase. By the end of the help-phase, the master (if he has done his job properly) should be spending less time directing the apprentice’s work and more time instructing him on the finer points of their shared craft.
The Do Phase
Finally, after the apprentice has mastered the various components of shoemaking sufficiently that he himself can construct a pair of shoes, the do-phase of the Apprenticeship process begins. Here, the apprentice works alongside the master at his own stand, no longer just helping to make shoes but actually making his own. Although he still works under the general supervision of the master, he himself has developed into a cordwainer.
A Leader’s apprenticeship follows the same watch-help-do three-phase pattern. Ideally, the apprentice-Leader has already learned from his Schooling what a Leader is and does. This has provided him head-knowledge about Leadership but not the hand-knowledge a Leader must have to actually practice the craft.
Apprenticeship Transforms Head-knowledge Into Hand-knowledge
Leadership principles can be learned in a classroom, but Leadership Skills cannot; no more than a man could learn how to make shoes simply by watching an instructional video about the process. To transform head-knowledge into hand-knowledge, more is required.
During the watch phase of his Apprenticeship, the developing Leader gains a deeper understanding of what a Leader does by observing his master in action. As with the master-Cordwainer, the master-Leader is initially strict with his apprentice, demanding exacting performance of small tasks and giving the younger man little discretion in the method of their performance. The master is also unyielding in his insistence that the apprentice meet the prevailing Standards of the Organization that he may someday Lead.
Gradually, at the pace deemed appropriate by the master, the apprentice-Leader begins to help the master Lead. Ideally, the help-phase of a Leader’s Apprenticeship lasts as long as the master determines it should, depending upon both the apprentice’s hard-wired Leadership ability and his level of tolerance for the pain that comes with its development. This last point is critical, for the process of building a Leader’s Foundation is a painful one. It is no easy thing to release one’s intuitive first-nature toward self-preservation and personal advancement in favor of a counterintuitive second-nature toward self-abandonment and prioritization of the needs of the followers.
But that is what a person must do to become a Leader, no matter how painful it is. To become what a Leader is and do what a Leader does, a man must make intuitive what is counterintuitive by nature. He must defy his external first-nature by shedding it in favor of something deeper within himself, something every man is born to be but can only be if he is willing tolerate the pain required to become it.
To some degree then, this process is like childbirth in that the Leader is a man reborn from something within himself. The master, having already been through his own rebirth, is both midwife to this painful process and the one who determines when it is sufficiently complete. Apprenticeship is critical to the development of the Virtuous Leader.
For those who are willing and able to tolerate the pain, the help-phase ultimately gives way to the do-phase. Here, the apprentice Leads alongside the master, encountering his own dilemmas and fashioning his own solutions, but with the master close by to offer both advice and counsel and, most importantly, to take ultimate responsibility for the success or failure of the Outcomes sought.
The apprentice is like a student pilot in that he is flying the Leadership-plane, but not without the instructor available to grab the yoke should his inexperience put the Organizational-aircraft at risk. When (and if), the apprentice-Leader has gained enough experience that he can handle the plane in most conditions without the master, he is ready for the Opportunity to Lead.