Manager Advice on Creating Teachable Moments to Train Your Team

In Chapter 6 of 15 in his 2012 Capture Your Flag interview, digital media executive Ken Rona answers "How Are You Becoming a Better Teacher?"  Rona talks about how he is learning to better communicate wisdom in more memorable ways.  For Rona, this means looking for teachable moments to use vivid stories, feedback, and timing to teach his young managers core job skills. 

Ken Rona is a Vice President at Turner Broadcasting, where he leads teams across advertising, sales, big data software development and business strategy.  Rona earned a BA and MA in Political Science from Stony Brook University and a PhD in Behavioral Economics from Duke University.


Erik Michielsen: How are you becoming a better teacher?

Ken Rona: The part of it is you’ve got to think about how you communicate the wisdom that you have in a way that is easily remembered. And to tell stories, right? So what I wanna do is tell stories around why I’m doing something or what I was thinking about. What I’m trying to do is shift a little bit to say, here’s the punchy phrase that summarizes what I’m trying to teach you here. And also the things that I’m giving people feedback on, tends to be much more managerial. So the other day something happened where somebody said something in a meeting that probably, like one-on-one would’ve been perfectly appropriate, and instead, he said it in a large meeting and it wasn’t appropriate to do it in front of a more junior staff. And as he was saying it, the first thing as—I mean I knew where he was going, he said kind of what he meant in the first sentence and I said hold it, let’s talk about this afterwards. After the meeting, I asked him to come in to my office and I said, look, as someone at your level you can’t make those comments in front of junior staff. Like you have a responsibility now—Like, have you read the Steve Jobs book?

Erik Michielsen: Some of it.

Ken Rona: So there’s this part where he talks about the difference between responsibility between a janitor and a vice president. And the difference is that that janitor, if he can’t get in your office because he doesn’t have the key to dump your garbage, that’s reasonable. Not reasonable for a vice president to say that. Vice president’s got it. So I kind of gave him a very short version of that story I just said, look, you know, there’s—there comes times in your career where there’s a difference between responsibility and the things you can say, and it’s not gradual. It’s actually a step change. You get promoted to X, you’re in a role, your role is different, and there are totally different expectations. Now, one would like to think like it is a step change, you’re walking up the steps, so you need to kind of go through those steps in your career, and what I was saying to him was, look, you’re—you’ve just taken the next step, the stuff you said at the previous point, you can’t say that anymore. You got—your communication is different. 

So there’s kind of another piece around the teaching where I tried to make it very vivid for him. To say like I mean I told the story about the steps and—So another thing you can do even though as I say I like to tell stories, really what I’m trying to do I guess is make these teachable moments very vivid for them so they remember it. And I think, you know, for that particular incident, stopping him in the middle of the meeting, bringing him in to my office, telling him the Steve Jobs story, and then saying you know, this applies to you. I’m 100% sure he got the message. So I guess some of that is I guess another important part of the teaching is the reinforcement, with that particular case, I reinforced 4 times in like, you know, 15 minutes. But I think that’s how you create teachable moments.