Do you know what sets top leaders apart from typical leaders? Teaching/mentoring their teams instead of demanding results and walking away - leaving them to fend for themselves.
Cognitive psychologists, teachers, and educational consultants have long recognized the value of personalized instruction: It fosters not only competence or compliance, but mastery of skills and independence of thought and action. However, it’s unusual to see this type of teaching within corporate organizations. In my experience, I’ve found that too many leaders fall to the more-traditional employee management and development practices, such as giving formal reviews, making professional introductions, advising on career plans, acting as sounding boards, and helping to navigate politics (if you're lucky). Although some managers do occasionally find themselves imparting a random lesson of wisdom, very few give it much thought or make it a core part of their regular job.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, top, excellence-producing leaders are teachers through and through. They routinely spend time in the trenches with employees, passing on technical skills, their failures, business principles, and other life lessons. Rarely is their teaching formal. It is has an unmistakable impact - these leaders' teams and organizations are some of the highest-performing in their sectors.
I bet you're thinking, great, now I need another training workshop or a special talent - I don't have time for one more thing! Not to worry. Just follow the precedent they’ve set. Learn what to teach, when to teach, and how to make your lessons resonate enough to stick.
WHAT TO TEACH
1. Overall professionalism
GREAT leaders teach their team members how to conduct oneself professionally. Anything from how to effectively prepare for meetings, communicating a vision for a project, and mentoring to subordinates in a constructive manner while respecting their independence.
Perhaps you work in hospitality. You may want to teach on credibility and putting guests first, as it directly affects how guests feel once being at your hotel, restaurant, hospital, etc. Your duty as the senior leader is to do what you said you would when you took the oath of the position. So teach your people how to be professional and all that it takes.
2. Your craft
Executives and senior leaders know their stuff - really well - or they wouldn't be in the roles they are in, right? I'd agree with that statement. What they do is they get so busy and forget to do to schedule time to teach their team members and other management about the details of what they know.
If you truly want teams that follow your lead and grow your business, you need to teach them in the same highly disciplined approach that you employ yourself—one rooted in extensive knowledge and experience. So whether your background is in retail, software architecture or supply chain management, be sure to teach them all you know. Who doesn't like learning from the person at top?
3. Life lessons
The best of leaders don't stop with teaching only about work. They tend to offer deep wisdom about life and the lessons they have learned. Find that it may be overstepping? Nope. Most teams find it very helpful to understand the thoughts and lessons learned of their bosses. Knowing these things facilitates trust and respect, and shows them that you are vulnerable.
Don't just start going up to your employees' desks and laying down all of your incredible knowledge and wisdom. But also don't wait for formal reviews. Seize opportunities when they come about! But when are those moments?
Make it your mantra to "teach people how to do things and how to run a business" in EVERY interaction. Is that realistic? Absolutely. You are at a level that requires teaching and listening, not doing.
One option I've seen over the years is to create an open-office environment, where cubicles are opened up or removed and employees work in a common space with the manager or leader having full view of all team members. This type of environment allows a leader to observe employees, have project accessibility, and encourage frequent conversations. If you are unable to create this, make it a point to walk around 5x's more than you do today. You'll be able to quickly impart wisdom for actions seen or conversations heard.
For example, some people struggle with communicating clearly to others, so when you see an interaction that needs assistance, you can observe and gently provide some guidance.
2. Manufactured setting
Sometimes it's best to remove teams and individuals from their day-to-day work environment - this allows them to relax and perhaps open up more. Even better, if you can take them to an unusual or unfamiliar setting - it's an opportunity for you to show how to be in different environments and engage with others or use the environment to create new ideas or solutions to problems.
HOW TO MAKE THINGS STICK
Be smart enough to not to pummel employees with too much information. It's scientifically proven that people can not take in a ton of information all at once. Yes, our brains do have the ability to process the information we take in, but at a cost. Corporate heads, political leaders, movie stars, and others whose time and attention are especially valuable have a staff around them who are basically extensions of their own brains, ensuring important information is retained.
1. Embrace personalization
Get good at understanding what motivates people and how to extract maximum performance out of them. Some times it can mean encouraging your team members; sometimes it can be making the person feel uncomfortable. Tailor your approach based on their personalities and what you think would be most effective. And don't be afraid to try different approaches until you get one that works!
2. Ask questions
My favorite is always "why". Why do you do your task that way? Why should we change the approach? Why? Why? Why? This gets people to think about what they are doing and thinking. Challenging their approach and thought-process. It seems annoying, but it's highly-effective when people put in the effort.
Ask other pertinent questions such as "what do you think about this?" "If this were your company, what would you do differently?". You'll be amazed at the responses you get. In most cases, you'll have to encourage responses and keep asking the questions until people start to feel as though they can open up and trust you more.
Remember, as the boss and leader, you regularly command your teams' attention. So it's more important than ever to provide them with relevant and personalized teaching. As you embrace this role of being a teacher, you build loyalty, turbocharge your team’s development, and drive superior business performance. Being a top leader is an integral responsibility, and if you aren't teaching, you can't call yourself a leader.