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Are Good Leaders Good Teachers?

I have thought about this question a lot and where I come out is, more often than not, yes… but not universally.

I had a colleague several years ago who worked for a medical device company. He put together a leadership program and in which all his senior leaders participated, but not in the same way. Some leaders delivered sessions. Others attended lunch sessions and made themselves available to meet with a few participants one-on-one.

There were a couple things I liked about my colleague’s program. Any one of the leaders involved had to gain a better understanding of the program content to be seen as credible by the participants. It is easier to get participants to buy into the content when their bosses are delivering it. And hopefully, participants got to see some of the content modeled by senior managers as they were delivering it. This company’s program ended up as a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on leaders as teachers.

EASI•Consult® has been offering certification sessions on the Burke Learning Agility tools and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. We are preparing leaders to be teachers of learning agility within their organizations. I’ll come back around to this later.

I recently came across an HBR article by Sydney Finkelstein called “The Best Leaders Are Great Teachers.” In that article, he makes several good points that I would like to cite and then bring things around to how they apply to Burke Learning Agility Certification.

Finkelstein’s points:

  • Pick your time and place – Seize the teachable moments to develop learning agility.
  • Professionalism – In certification, we emphasize confidentiality with the data, so participants understand they are the only ones who see their information.
  • Genuineness – We encourage participants in certification to wrestle with the content and ask hard questions. If someone isn’t convinced of the importance of learning agility, it will come across when they teach others.
  • Share your biases – We all have them, and they influence how we approach things. Stating what they are helps make them less of an obstacle.
  • Share life lessons – Good anecdotes help make concepts come alive in the classroom. Caution, don’t pontificate.
  • Split hairs when necessary – The difference between agility and ability is important. Make sure participants understand that distinction.
  • Explain what to do, not how – Learning agility is all about figuring it out yourself.
  • Be available – Teaching others about learning agility requires stamina. The hours are long, but you need to always be available (back to seizing those teachable moments).
  • Don’t overload participants with information – We try in certification to give participants information in manageable bites. We review the information later and add to it. Your job as teacher is to educate and inform, not confuse.
  • Match your approach to how participants receive information – Using a personal example here, my golf teacher and I do this. He gives me an instruction, I tell him what I hear and then he modifies the instruction to align with what I am receiving. This has made a tremendous difference in our alignment as teacher and learner.
  • Model how you learn – I just did that in the above example. There are many and varied opportunities to demonstrate learning agility dimensions, such as interpersonal risk taking and performance risk taking, during certification training. It is important to make explicit that that is what you just did.

I have always believed that the best way to learn something is to have to teach it. Are good leaders good teachers? Learning agility is about 21st century leadership. We hold participants to a high standard in certification training. I would like to think the certification experience will help make them better leaders.

David Hoff is the Chief Operation Officer and Executive Vice President for Leadership Development at EASI•Consult®. EASI•Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized corporations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. EASI•Consult specialties include individual assessment, online employment testing, survey research, competency modeling, leadership development, executive coaching, 360-degree feedback, online structured interviews, and EEO hiring compliance. The company is a leader in the field of providing accurate information about people through professional assessment. To learn more about EASI•Consult, visit www.easiconsult.com, email ContactUs@easiconsult.com or call 800.922.EASI.

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