Two indisputable facts:
- If you’re a leader, you’re a teacher – whether or not you realize it.
- Great leaders are great readers.
How many books did you read this month? How about this year? Did you know that the top CEOs in the US read on average 4 books a month? Warren Buffet? 500 pages a day. Mark Cuban? 3 hours a day. Bill Gates? He says that he reads 50 books a year.
Think back to your first job. Did you have a mentor to show you the ropes? Think about learning a new sport like golf? Did you have someone patient enough to show you how to use your driver? Did you have someone encouraging you to learn? And, if you took it seriously, I bet you also consumed as much info as you could get your hands on! Today’s complicated work environment requires that leaders embrace their role as teachers and leaders. The science even says that the best leaders are readers and they teach what they learn from all those books with their employees. With leaders as teachers, employees become more engaged – creating new leaders, who in turn, become teachers themselves.
One underlying problem – learning leads to knowledge but not action! Take a look across your office or Zoom video gallery. Who do you see that really needs a mentor or coach.
This puts an added responsibility onto today’s leaders like you. Bosses can no longer just tell their staff what to do, pay them, and call it a day. Leadership is much more complicated than that. Another level of complexity is that there is more than one effective way for leaders to teach: you can coach employees, or participate in formal mentorship programs; you can help define leadership initiatives; teach a module; job shadow; lead a discussion about a Forbes article or simply be available for a cup of coffee. What matters is that you are tapping into your staff member’s inner teacher to strengthen and grow them and ultimately your organization. So the question is, how are you going to embrace your inner teachership? The first step is to read more. The second step is to put into action. This means teaching something to someone on your team. The third step is to turn these new motions into habits.
In psychology, the protégé effect is a psychological phenomenon where teaching, pretending to teach, or preparing to teach information to others helps a person learn that information. For example, a student who is studying for an exam could benefit from the protégé effect and improve their understanding of the relevant material, by teaching that material to their peers. So, yes, it’s true – when you have to teach it, that’s when you really learn it.
A recent Harvard Business Review article, “The Best Leaders are Great Teachers” by Sydney Finkelstein (Jan/Feb 2018), argues that taking an intentional approach to teaching within your organization will strengthen your staff and drive superior business performance.
This makes sense but how do you go about it especially when you are busy. It’s easier than you might suspect.
Think of “teaching” as falling into three main categories:
- Pointers on professionalism
- Technical knowledge
- Broader life lessons
Try to find ways to teach your staff in each of these areas. Great leaders look for teaching opportunities – instead of dreading or avoiding them. Look for them on the fly, in addition to formal scheduled opportunities (such as the annual review). Great leaders create teaching moments, often by taking protégés off-site for informal conversations in less stressful situations. Set a schedule, like meeting every quarter, to ensure consistency. And when it comes to teaching by example, nothing beats sticking to your scheduled appointments and respecting everyone’s time by starting and stopping as scheduled. Try to make these teachable moments fun because we all love a fun teacher!
- Decide that you want to be a reader – Own this and find ways to enjoy reading. It keeps you growing
- Explore audible books or book summary sites – you don’t have to just read entire books. Get creative!
- Don’t be too fancy for the local library – Libraries are making a comeback – Millennials are more likely to use public libraries than any GenX or Baby Boomers. Frequenting your local library is an inexpensive way to gain access to thousands of books. Also, encourage your team members to embrace the library.
- Schedule reading time on your calendar – If Jeff Bezos can find time to read every day, you sure as heck can.
- Read the first two chapters of the book and decide if you go on or not – Great leaders are not just readers, they are selective readers.
- Decide that you want to embrace your inner teachership – make this a part of your day, your week, your month.
- Keep building your bench. Create an army – Know when you’ve imparted most of what you have to offer and be on the lookout for someone else who may be able to teach/inspire your mentee in new ways.
- Don’t just learn it, teach it – and then tell them they will have to teach others what they have learned.
- Get organized – Take notes on each member of your team. It shows you’re taking things seriously. Keep track of what you are teaching him/her. Encourage a book of the month or quarter club.
- Thank your mentor – Most mentors are hoping to make an impact and would love to hear if they have. Let your mentor know that he or she did and how that is making a difference in your life or career.
If you want to learn more about embracing your inner teachership, reach out to Chris and his team!
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Co-authored by: Betsy Moore, Industrial/Organizational Psychology Consultant & Health Coach