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Leaders as Teachers

One of the most impressive CEOs I have come across, leading a large multinational European business, was once asked in a Q & A session with some junior managers what he really wanted from them, what it would take for them to have been said to succeed.  He thought about this for a while and then answered.

“Doing your job well is a given, why would we expect anything less? Growing your job, enhancing its impact and effectiveness, that gets you on the radar but if you really want to demonstrate value you will be able to answer my question - what have you taught the business”?

This still stands for me as one of the most clarion like 'call to arms' for managers to show initiative, be creative, take responsibility beyond the strict limitations of their role definition, deal with the messy bits that clog up organisation functioning etc.

This idea of the role of ‘leader as teacher’ was expanded for me when I came across some work by Prof Kathryn L Shaw in an NBER paper called “The Value of Bosses”.  She identifies as a key differentiator between good and bad bosses, what she terms their ability to’ teach’. The difference in the productivity levels of teams led by good and bad bosses is significant and substantial and the ability of the boss to teach accounts for 67% of this difference.

This is more than just coaching albeit that coaching is a significant contributor to someone's ability to teach. Good teachers employ a variety of strategies depending on the nature of the thing they’re trying to teach; the readiness of the learner to learn and the circumstances or context in which a particular teaching moment happens.  The art is to respond to these factors in a way that really promotes sustainable change in others.

What really intrigues me is the challenge of the CEO above. It is one thing to ’teach’ your team, a different challenge altogether to teach the business. That requires a complex level of skill rarely identified in leader selection or development. Is teaching more than influencing skills? I think it is.

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