The Montessori method and leadership development

We are in the middle of a renovation project to our 100-year-old house. As I was packing “stuff” to move from one bedroom to another, I came upon a box of drawings and daily reports from Ms. Diane — my sons’ preschool Montessori teacher.
It brought a flood of nostalgia, but also made me think how Maria Montessori’s 110-year approach to education offers valuable insights into how we cultivate tomorrow’s leaders.
Her fundamental premise relies upon a child’s inherent predisposition to learn when five basic principles are met: 1) respect, 2) an absorbent mind, simply by living, 3) sensitivity toward learning at key stages, 4) a prepared environment and 5) self-education, or auto-education in the Montessori vernacular.
Respect — Respect is the cornerstone tenet in the Montessori method. Leaders develop the skills and self-esteem for success only when they’re empowered with the respect of their mentors, colleagues and peers. Good leaders are generous with their respect and, in return, it is reciprocated.
Absorbent mind — We are all born to learn. It’s in our nature, even though we may not realize it. As leaders, keep feeding that soil of the mind, and just as importantly ensure that the experiential doors of learning are open for tomorrow’s leaders and the environment allows for growth.
Sensitivity at key stages — We don’t always know when we’re on the precipice of our own catharsis. The timing and sequence differs for everyone. As leaders, it’s incumbent on us to watch for signs as we mentor others. Montessori places this responsibility with teachers who observe when to set the stage for a pupil’s learning.
When times are hard or deadlines are looming, do you bring everything to yourself since you can do it better and faster? Or do you bring your team closer so they can garner experiences that enable them to lead in the future? Are you consciously vigilant for opportunities to unlock someone’s potential?
Prepared environment — In a Montessori classroom, materials and experiences are available for children to learn autonomously. Allow the next generation of leaders the freedom to experiment with materials, technology and structures. This, by the way, doesn’t mean you abandon the responsibility for their and the company’s safety.
Self-education — Each of us learns differently. But whether we learn through reading, instruction or by doing, we still learn by ourselves. No one does this for us.
When you get impatient, remind yourself how you learned. Show your people and your mentees that you have confidence in them by giving them opportunities to excel as well as to make mistakes.
The Montessori method is about freedom and respect: freedom of opportunity and respect for the fact that people will grow.
That box of 22-year-old notes reminded me how reflective Montessori principles are of our motto at Leadership Pittsburgh: “We open eyes, minds and doors.” This method can allow development to happen naturally and powerfully.

Try these approaches and observe the results in just two people over the coming six months. By not setting boundaries and expectations, you may witness a breakthrough you never predicted.

Aradhna M. Oliphant is the President and CEO of Leadership Pittsburgh Inc. LPI strengthens regional leadership by connecting current and emerging leaders and high-potential veterans with each other and with people and issues that shape communities. Under her leadership, demand for LPI programs has grown exponentially. A graduate of LPI, Aradhna is deeply committed to the region and serves on many boards.