Leader As Teacher
I sat down recently for a quick chat with a brilliant mind. Our conversation quickly evolved to the role of leaders today. Littering our discussion were words and phrases we have come to associate with leadership. Of the adjectives, one remained constant. That word was teacher. In some shape or form, not through the pedagogical lens, the word teach captured a much deeper meaning. The act of teaching is to allow for transfer of knowledge which should stimulate some action. That action may be interpreted as positive or negative within society. I am obviously moving toward what is to be gained from positive experiences. Unfortunately, as humans we focus a lot on the mistakes that are made by our “leaders”, without giving due regard to the constraints, either by virtue of their personal biases or that of the environment in which they ply their trade. There are valuable lessons to be found in the faux pas of our top brass in whatever professional sphere. Time to sit and take notes.
For example, a business leader is expected to synergize the companies vision with the actions of each tier within the organization. His interaction with the executive level should but in not all cases, result in a transfer of the values and attitudes that are required for success. The fact that the title holder holds immense authority at the particular level should encourage him or her to adopt a style that allows for the transfer of knowledge. Our leaders should excite. An excited body of people will rally around the strategic efforts to be better than the last , especially if the leader, “walks the talk”.
I have had the benefit of working alongside a number of successful leaders who have demonstrated that their role is not only to make the company profitable but to also enrich the lives of those the led. In one company, the actions of the General Manager will always stay with me. As part of our weekly executive exchange (meetings), he would seamlessly inject into the discussion, stories associated with his growth and development. It was nothing like the distasteful encounter with a braggart. He shared his lived experiences in an effort to teach the team of executives that their role was not to abuse the authority that was imbued by virtue of the office they held but should be used as an opportunity to develop those who not only showed an interest, but to challenge those who didn’t to look outside of the clichéd box. I took from those meetings the appreciation that knowledge, whether through the academic setting or the lived experience can be a powerful tool to taking someone from stagnation to dizzying heights of achievement.
We are in a position to be taught daily. Our resistance to finding the golden nuggets are often at odds with our experience with difficult leaders. Instead of putting up psychological walls, I challenge you to dissect each interaction and identify what is worth extracting. You should also remind yourself that you are as much a part of the story. Be involved in the writing of that narrative.
We like to beat up on those who do not address our particular interests and needs. That’s true enough. We see it daily on national television where the political directorates become fodder for the rest of us. The idea of damn if they do damn if they don’t is quite real but beyond that is the question, “if we held those positions for a year, would we, or could we channel the energy, commitment to be game changers, hard-core decisions that would be unpopular, resilience and excitement that we all clamor for in our leaders?” I dare say many of us would fail, becoming in the eyes of our subordinates, incompetent leaders.
Leadership is a lifestyle, a discipline. You live it and breath it. You admit when a mess is made especially if the mess is on the basis of erred judgment. You will not always get it right, but there are lessons in failure. It is our response to these episodes that can in turn promote a culture of learning and enrich the lives of so many future leaders.
Copyright Suzette Henry-Campbell 2013