Imagine a piano teacher suggesting to lecture you on how to play piano, or a basketball coach suggesting you read a case study for how to play ball.

You'd think they were crazy.

You need to put your hands on the keyboard, or around the ball.

In these fields you need to face the inevitable social and emotional challenges of interacting with others and yourself. They are active, performance-based, and expressive.

Passively listening to a lecture or even discussing a case study about someone else doesn't provoke the anxiety, fear, exhilaration, and every other emotion that performing does.

Sound familiar?

Leadership is social, emotional, active, expressive, and performance-based too. So is entrepreneurship.

What Doesn't Work

So why would anyone expect lectures and case studies to teach them?

Historically, it seems to make sense for business schools to teach new fields how they taught old ones, like economics. Except it doesn't work for piano, basketball, and, in my experience, leadership.

I learned about leadership in business school, but no leader became great from knowing facts about leading. I learned to lead from practice--facing the inevitable social and emotional challenges of hiring, firing, making payroll, selling, and everything else you do every day, which doesn't include lectures and case studies.

I won't lie. When I created my first leadership seminars, I thought I would innovate by creating new content. Despite an Ivy League BA, PhD, and MBA, nearly every class I took was based on passively listening to lectures, then doing homework. Business school included some case studies. I didn't know of any other techniques.

Lecturing leadership to professionals got old quick. People who don't have to attend your course for a degree requirement don't tolerate pointless communication.

What Works

I was lucky. As I began teaching at university, I found a friend immersed in active, experiential teaching. It turns out educators have been developing such techniques for over a century, but mainly in the K-12 space, so mostly unknown to university professors.

They call it project-based learning, which begins with engaging the student on something that matters to them in their life. It rejects the notion that we are preparing students for "real life" after graduation, instead saying "you are living now and can do things that matter."

I began both giving students projects and learning more about project-based learning. I quickly learned that when you start by engaging students, you don't have to know everything. In fact, more effective than giving them answers is to give them an exercise or project where they will have to figure out the answer. Then they tell you.

Suddenly teaching felt more like leading. For that matter, my leadership improved in my business life. More effective than authority and knowing all the answers were empathy, listening, facilitating, and assuming they were more able than I was, which they are for things they care about.

My role became to motivate, help structure their work, figure out what resources they'd need, and to let them go. Then to support them, like leaders do. When they finished, to prompt them to reflect and grow.

Backed By Research

By the time Science reported, in 2014, "Lectures Aren't Just Boring, They're Ineffective, Too, Study Finds" teaching had become inspiring to myself as well as my students. I had active, experiential, project-based alternatives for teaching my courses in leadership, entrepreneurship, and sales.

It turns out you were on to something when you asked if a boring class's subject matter would help after school, you were on to something.

Student Results

Maybe my best motivation never to lecture on leadership, entrepreneurship, sales, or any related field came from a student's review from last semester:

"As a senior, this was the first course that challenged me, asking me to think outside my comfort zones. Yet, it is also where I have developed a strong network of supporters through group projects."

Isn't that what makes a leader: to face professional and personal challenges and to overcome them, forming a team in the process?