One of the most fulfilling activities I engage in is serving as a volunteer instructor for the Institute of Internal Auditors (IIA). I’ve always been a fan of the IIA’s simple yet elegant goal for the internal audit profession: “progress through learning.” Their volunteer Instructor program stays true to that mantra by leveraging the time and talent of the professional community to help perpetuate the development of internal audit professionals.
The Pupil Becomes the Teacher
The most common question I get when I teach these classes is, “How did you get involved in teaching for the IIA?” Back in 2004 I was attending a course on IA Quality Assurance. I was preparing to lead our department’s Quality Assurance Review (which is required by IIA Standards). I wanted to be sure I mined every possible nugget of knowledge from the course, so I was one of the more active participants in the class. At the end of the course, I was approached by one of the instructors to see if I had any interest in putting my name into the volunteer instructor pool, and happily declared that I did. This led to an invite to the IIA’s instructor development program, where I was trained and certified as an IIA Instructor.
Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to instruct a few courses for the IIA. Because I am still gaining experience, I have always served as a “co-instructor,” each time being paired with a more experienced primary instructor (and I have struck gold every time given the professionalism and kindness of my lead instructors). Recently I had an opportunity to teach the Tools for the New Auditor In-Charge course in New York City. The training was held in Lower Manhattan, which is akin to heaven for a history geek like me. I ate at the Fraunces Tavern where George Washington delivered his final address to his troops in 1783. I visited the Trinity Churchyard, where Alexander Hamilton was laid to rest after his duel with Aaron Burr. And then there’s the 9/11 Memorial, to which I cannot adequately do justice in this blog.
More Than Just a Sage on a Stage
Despite all the great sight-seeing, the real reason I was there was to fulfill my responsibilities to the IIA and the course participants. I think it’s important to note that while we are officially referred to as course “instructors,” it would be more accurate to refer to us as “facilitators.” We were not expected to lecture the class as the end-all, be-all experts on the subject matter. On the contrary, our primary purpose was to steer the class through the curriculum, to highlight and make memorable the salient points, to offer examples from our own experience and perspective, and to let the class drive the discussion where they want and need it to go.
Now I’d be lying if I said that my only aim in facilitating these courses is to run the course participants through the material and bestow upon them their continuing education credits. For me, it’s about making new connections, both professional and personal. It’s about encouraging others to lend their unique perspective to the discussion. And above all, it’s about learning – not just for the participants but for the instructors as well. As I mentioned earlier, the course was focused on the tools and skills required to be an effective “Auditor in Charge.” I could have fallen into the trap of self-importance, drawn upon my many years of experience as an Auditor in Charge and bestowed my sage wisdom upon my eager pupils. Thankfully, I saw this approach as being utterly ridiculous. In order to effectively get the critical course points across to the group, I had to do some re-learning and reflection around the following points:
- How can I best crystallize what the IIA Standards mandate?
- What are the key responsibilities of an Auditor In Charge, not just from a technical perspective but also how they carry themselves with their clients, superiors, coworkers and subordinates?
- How do we help peel away the varying titles and organization structures and nuances of each student’s department and arrive the key points that they should take away from our course?
To tackle this challenge, I first devoured the IIA’s material – it’s a good idea to fully understand what the authorities of the profession have to say on the matter. The material had to serve as the foundation for all of our teaching, so it was important that I knew it inside and out. But I also understood that standing and reading the material to the class wasn’t going to give them their money’s worth. The ultimate responsibility was on the instructors to make the words on the page of their participant guides tangible and relatable. And I quickly realized that the best way to drive the key points home wasn’t to put myself out there as the wise guru, but rather to share both successes and failures.
No Risk, No Reward
Believe me when I say that I had plenty of material from my past life as an internal auditor to help the class understand what not to do as an Auditor In Charge. I realize that standing in front of a room of 25 internal audit professionals and telling them about all of the times that you fell on your face is somewhat of a risky proposition for someone as risk-averse as me.
I can say with all honestly that I’m glad I took the risk. My stories of flailing and failure not only helped drive home the importance of the concepts we were presenting, they also entertained and delighted each and every participant! OK, maybe that’s a bit of an overstatement, but I will say that there seemed to be a general feeling of appreciation and more importantly, relief, as they got the sense that they didn’t need to be perfect. Rather, their new role required them to be diligent, organized and willing to learn from their mistakes. The most satisfying part of the experience for me, aside from helping with the participants’ learning process, was to make a few mistakes of my own as an instructor, receive instant feedback from my primary instructor and immediately apply that feedback as I work to continually improve myself. Let’s face it, there’s plenty of room for me to improve, and I’m perfectly fine with that as long as I continue making progress.
We’re only human, we can only take on so much and we will all make mistakes (even those of us who refuse to admit that it’s true). Coming to terms with this allows us to stay grounded and, most importantly, to learn from those failures and let those lessons make us stronger in the long run.
–Jason Rohlf, OrangePoint