[blockquote author=”” ]A mistake is at least evidence that someone tried to do something.[/blockquote]

Education is full of little axioms we all pass over somewhere in our education classes in college and soon forget in the midst of the everyday tasks at hand. But they crop up several years later and make more sense now that we have the experiences to understand them. So much of what we teach in leadership workshops is centered on the things we already know but fail to put into practice each day.

If we are to succeed at anything when we are dealing with other people, we had better be in command of the laws of leadership.

This is one such law: I hear––I forget; I see––I remember; I do––I understand!


It’s true! We remember about 10 percent of what we hear. In terms of teaching (leadership), we can quickly see the application of this to any facet of the typical classroom. How many times have we spent countless hours going over the very same material, lecturing until we were blue in the face, only to have a student continue to make the same mistake time and time again? If we are to follow this formula, we would have to say everything ten times to insure that the student (follower) would completely understand. And then, of course, the next time we run into the same problem, we are up for another ten swings at the ball before there is any guarantee of hitting it.

Maybe there is a better way!


Have you ever watched a group play a concert with their heads buried in the music? On the podium, the conductor is frantically trying to get the attention of the group so he or she can institute some musical interpretation.

The retention rate jumps to 24 percent when the students are watching. Simply by keeping the eyes on a teacher, the students will retain an additional 14 percent. So, in any form of communication, it is a necessity to make eye contact with those around you. Never give instructions without making sure the students (followers) are watching you. Demand and command eye contact.

Maybe there is a better way!


Ah, yes! When we participate in anything, our level of retention jumps to 80 percent. If you truly want those you are leading to grasp any concept, you must get them to do it! A more pragmatic way of saying this is: Quit talking so much! Quit demonstrating so much! Have the person do it more! Experience is always the best teacher in the world.

What does this have to do with leadership?

When we pass out the assignments for various leadership roles, the instructions often stop there. We assume the person is going to be able to deal with his or her peers. That is rarely the case. Thus, much time is wasted as these leaders go about telling their followers what to do (10 percent retention), showing them what to do by doing it themselves as a demonstrator (24 percent retention), and having the followers (learners) actually doing the task for a very short time (80 percent retention). And, as we all know, the success of any leader is in direct proportion to their ability to produce excellence in the people they are leading.

Now, if you want your leaders to benefit from this article, don’t read it to them, and don’t put it on the board for them to read, but sit down with them and go over it together. Make a list of “to do’s” that will improve their performance in the class and then have the class complete them.

Let’s not talk about creating excellence or observing those who have created excellence, but let’s go about creating excellence. Real leadership comes out of action. The proof is in the pudding! Take some action!

This article is adapted from the book “Everyday Wisdom for Inspired Teaching” by GIA Publications, and reproduced with permission from Tim Lautzenheiser

Tim Lautzenheiser

Written By Tim Lautzenheiser

Tim Lautzenheiser presently serves as Vice President of Education for Conn-Selmer, Inc. His career involves ten years of successful college band directing at Northern Michigan University, the University of Missouri, and New Mexico State University. His books, produced by G.I.A. Publications, Inc., continue to be bestsellers in the educational world. He is also co-author of popular band method, Essential Elements, and is the Senior Educational Consultant for Hal Leonard, Inc.