Teacher-leaders energize and inspire others to give their best performance
We remember our teachers fondly. Your career choice probably got shaped by the teacher who you adored. Many of us did not pursue career options that involved the subject taught by a teacher who we did not like. In the workspace, we call the teacher by different names – coach, mentor, role-model etc. But they are all essentially teacher-leaders in some way.
If you look at the top fifty professionals of any function or even the CEOs of the top fifty companies, you will see that they have all worked at the same organizations at some stage of their careers. They may have all worked for some of these exceptional teacher-leaders who have shaped not only their early years, but have continued to remain an influence in their lives long after they have changed jobs or even the organizations that brought them together in the first place. Teacher-leaders thrive in some organizational cultures.
Why teacher-leaders matter now
We all know that people join organizations and leave managers. That is really the organizational version of people choosing not to pursue a career option just to spite the teacher. Think of the manager who takes a perverse delight in finding fault in whatever you do, but does not teach you how to improve. Commenting on a problem without demonstrating a better alternative does not ensure improvement. Teacher-leaders help us improve.
The digital world is going to heighten the role of the teacher-leader. As new business models change, new technology emerges and old approaches get replaced, it also renders roles and job-descriptions redundant. The teacher-leaders help their protégés make meaning of these changes. They also help their colleagues learn the new skills that will make them successful. During these changing times, the teacher-leader will energize and inspire others to give their best performance.
Master craftsman-apprentice model
The master craftsman not only role-models the best way to do a task, they also provide the concepts and logic behind why that is the best way. Without knowing the theory, the protégé will only know one single way of doing something. By knowing the theory, the master-craftsman ensures that the apprentice can make an impact even when the circumstances have changed. The teacher-leader has to deconstruct the action. To do that, they need to have the ability to pause, rewind and correct the action. That is often done by letting the apprentice trace back their steps to understand where they went off-track.
Not every senior leader can be a natural teacher-leader. The best player is not always the best coach. The topper of the class does not automatically make for a great professor. So the organization needs to identify those leaders who enjoy helping others succeed and those who enjoy teaching but lack the necessary skills. In case of latter, it may be worth teaching the enthusiastic leader the skills that can help him become a better teacher.
How to be a teacher-leader
- Make yourself accessible. Go watch the person at work without the protégé feeling intimidated. Create clear windows when you can teach someone how to pick up new skills or share your hacks.
- Create a mix of formal and informal interactions. The softer elements of the role are better taught in an informal manner through conversations.
- Take the protégé to your meetings and let them watch you role model the behaviour. Step out of the meeting and debrief about why you did what you did.
The teacher-leader can be a talent magnet. Judge a leader not by the number of followers, but by the number of leaders he/she has created.