You might actually be someone’s favorite teacher.
Think about your favorite teacher for a moment. Who comes to mind?
Think about the traits, the qualities, this person showed. Chances are that your favorite teacher was present. They helped you solve problems. They set high expectations. They made you feel like you could do just about anything. They guided you as you made your way towards a better version of yourself. They cheered for you. You were their best work. You saw that others felt exactly the same way about them that you did. They challenged. This person inspired. This person celebrated your growth in one breath and told you in another that you had much more room to grow.
Now: how many of you, when thinking about your favorite teacher, thought about a boss? Maybe your current boss, or a former boss?
I’m willing to make a wager here that most of you thought about an elementary teacher or college professor who made that impact for you, and that very few of you thought about your bosses as great teachers.
This, my friends, is an opportunity area.
That most of us mentally dismiss our bosses or managers as teachers is a wake-up call that we, as managers now ourselves, may be missing this opportunity to show real leadership and make a real investment in others while we meet work objectives.
And yet, research from Prof. Sydney Finkelstein at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth shows us that great leaders are great teachers. Great leaders know how to identify teachable moments. They connect and guide others to bits of truth that help them in their professional, technical, and personal lives.
Forbes Council Member and NewCampus CEO Will Fan, in an article published in September 2021, talks about some of the leadership traits that can be achieved by embracing those teacher qualities. They are intentional about the individual growth of their people, provide constructive critiques that leave room for problem solving, and apply Socratic methodology in their coaching by leading their people to arrive at answers all their own, rather than telling them what to do (which I have found helps bypass the trap of having to have all the answers).
I would add that great leaders teach (and great teachers lead) by helping their people to unlearn as well, removing them from the matrix and replacing old ways of thinking with the confidence to attack problems before they happen and follow their curiosity towards nebulas of new opportunity.
It is a master/apprentice relationship. The great leaders roll up their sleeves and get into the work with their teams. They use the proximity to subject, space, and time to build into their people, their organization, and their industry.
Here’s your moment of reflection for today: how might you best emulate the highest qualities of your favorite teacher as a leader yourself? What do you need to start doing, and what do you need to stop doing, to take your place as your people’s favorite teacher?