Blog Post

Are You a Leader or a Teacher? (Or Both?)

Suzanne Lucas

Founder, Evil HR Lady

Do you think of yourself as a leader, a mentor, a boss or a teacher? People who work outside of education don't generally identify themselves as teachers. After all, teachers stand up in front of classrooms and give pop quizzes. What's that got to do with the world of work?

A lot, actually. Leadership is important, but there is also a case to be made for teaching in the workplace—and I'm not talking about training. Managers and leaders who are also teachers focus not only on getting the information out there, but also ensuring that their students (employees) truly understand it.

The Difference Between a Leader and a Teacher

Lots of managers want to hire people who can jump in and get to work with little or no training. They expect to say, "We need to accomplish X," and that their staff can figure out how to do that on their own. They provide overall guidance and make suggestions from time to time, but their focus is on the big picture. CEOs often fall into this category.

In a larger company, the CEO doesn't have the time, nor the skills, to teach each employee how to do their job. She hires, sets the goals, makes the big decisions and leaves others to get on with it.

But what if you're not a CEO? Or maybe you are, but your business is small and young? If you're a first-line manager, there's a good chance you have employees that don't know how to get from A to Z by themselves. That's where teaching comes in.

Teach the Journey—and the Destination

A teaching manager will sit with an employee and go over a process or procedure until the employee can do it on their own. They will explain not only the end goal, but also steps A, B, C and D and so forth.

This might sound a little bit like a micro-manager. It's not! No good teacher hovers over a third grader doing multiplication tables once the child has mastered them. Likewise, while a teaching manager will give detailed instruction and support to an employee, the manager moves on once the employee has mastered the skill.

Celebrate Success

A teaching manager also cares deeply about the success of her employees. She rejoices when one of them gets promoted, because she wants what's best for her team and for the individual—even if that means she has to hire a replacement.

If you want to become a teaching manager, you need to realize that you'll be devoting a lot more of your time to hands-on teaching and training. Figure out what your staff needs to learn, and create a plan for them to learn it. Depending on your staff, this can be a different plan for each employee. Take the time to sit one-on-one, answer questions, give feedback and push the employee a little bit forward every week—just like your favorite high school teacher did for you (hopefully).

If you're a manager who can teach by stepping back and leading once your team knows how to operate, then give yourself a pat on the back. That's the entire goal of management: To help people get to a point where you're no longer needed, so they can find the next challenge (and teacher).

Photo: Twenty20

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