Want to be a better leader? Teach
If you’re not teaching, you’re not really leading.
So says Professor Sydney Finkelstein, writing in the latest edition of the Harvard Business Review.
Finkelstein, the Steven Roth Professor of Management and Director of the Leadership Center at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College, spent a decade studying world-class leaders to find out what sets them apart from typical leaders.
“One big surprise was the extent to which these star managers emphasise ongoing, intensive one-on-one tutoring of their direct reports, either in person or virtually, in the course of daily work”, he writes.
This approach departs markedly from the traditional management approach, of one to one reviews, career planning and advice to direct reports on internal politics.
In contrast, exceptional leaders make teaching a core part of their job who “routinely spent time in the trenches with employees, passing on technical skills, general tactics, business principles, and life lessons.”
And teacher-leaders get rewards. “Personalised instruction…fosters not just competence or compliance but mastery of skills and independence of thought and action.”
This input has, says Finkelstein, “an unmistakable impact: their teams and organisations were some of the highest-performing in their sectors.”
The key to all teaching, it could be argued, is rich content that adds value to the lives of students, and senior UK local government leaders have so much to share. Those who have reached the top or the upper echelons have often done so by learning tough lessons themselves along the way.
But rather than holding onto those painful memories or, in the sink-or-swim culture, expect those who are on the way up to learn the hard lessons for themselves, senior leaders could create powerful educational experiences for their staff.
With our attention increasingly focused on productivity, a few hours a week of a senior leader’s time could increase the effectiveness and impact of talented managers and rising stars. In an austerity-focused public sector, embracing teaching could help liberate value and enrich working lives.
To read more about how to turn your working life’s journey into a powerful course on the art of surviving and thriving, take a look at Sydney Finkelstein
Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Manage the Flow of Talent (Portfolio/Penguin, 2016).