4 Reasons Leaders Should be Teachers

If you’re in the training and organizational development world, you hear the term learning organization thrown around a lot. Everyone wants to be one, and many organizations claim they already are one.

But what if we took a slightly different angle on the conversation? Perhaps it’s two sides of the same coin, but what if instead of talking about being a learning organization all the time, we started talking an awful lot about being a teaching organization?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately as I work on a talk I have the privilege of giving alongside Andy Janning, founder of No Net Solutions, at the upcoming CU Watercooler Symposium. I believe Andy was the first person who dragged this idea out of the abstract weirdness of my brain and into the light of concrete reality. We were talking, and he said something along the lines of this: In an organization, if you know stuff, you should be teaching stuff. That always stuck with me for a number of reasons. Plus, it allows me to use the word stuff a lot, and I like that. Andy also has some really cool stuff (See? I used it again.) to say about the role of teachers in so many of our favorite movies; take a second and check it out here, here, here, and here. But think about the impact this subtle paradigm shift could have:

1. It puts the onus on everyone to be investing in others. After all, people have been hired because they have a certain degree of knowledge about things that are in some way important to the organization. Why, oh why, would we not want others to know some of that too?

2. Mentoring happens more organically. What if leaders thought of teaching others how to lead as a non-negotiable, essential part of their leadership gig? What if teaching became a primary leadership responsibility rather than something that we do when we find time in our often-chaotic schedules?

3. It increases the likelihood that leaders will emerge within the organization. Think about it. If leaders all over the organization are consistently and intentionally teaching others all over the organization, you’ll see other leaders begin to pop up. Great leaders produce other leaders, and teaching plays a huge role in that.

4. The organization gets smarter. I know you’re saying, Thanks, Captain Obvious, right now, but still. If you hire people who know stuff, and provide the expectation that those people who know stuff are going to teach others that stuff, then as you move forward more people are going to know more stuff, right? It’s like a knowledge snowball or something.

Those are just a few things that would happen as a result of an organizations and leaders embracing a teaching mindset. Do you have others? I’d love to hear them!

4 comments

  1. I like this, although as long as they’re not like college lecturers, spouting information from the front of the room :) I think knowing when to teach, when to coach, and then when to get out of the way and let others lead is key. Good post, Matt.

  2. Greg Blencoe says:

    Matt,

    This is an interesting concept.

    Another benefit of teaching others is that it helps us learn the material even better. You typically really have to know the information well in order to explain it to somebody else. When I’m teaching somebody else something, I’ve found that it helps me organize my thoughts.

  3. Kent Julian says:

    For leaders, it is incredibly important to teach those we lead through consistent and solid mentoring. This not only shape our people and breeds future leaders, it shapes and molds us. Fantastic post, Matt!

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