While it might seem rather counter intuitive, gaining some teaching experience can boost a manager’s skill set. We all had a teacher that marked our lives. Equally we can recall a manager who influenced our personal path. Both professions offer a unique way to impact others. Yet, because we tend to dissociate our experience in school from the one on our workplace, we don’t often make this connection.
Beyond this common influence role here are the 4 ways in which teaching can nurture our management and ultimately leadership skills.
1. Effective motivation
One of the main challenges when teaching is to keep our audience interested, curious, engaged, active, and hopefully, productive. This is even tricker in a digital or distance setting. Teachers need to deploy other strategies for large classrooms, early morning classes, late evening ones, or subjects that are less interesting for students.
Transposed to our managerial settings, these challenges are: how do I keep my team engaged while working from home or at a distance? How do I manage their productivity on a project that they show no interest for, or when their personal life prevents them from being fully operational?
Over the years, I saw faculty deploy a wide range of options to keep their students motivated. The most productive ones appear to be:
- Create trust and a safe space for debate and engagement. A secure environment can motivate students to go beyond what they think they are capable of. It’s no different for employees. To learn more about this, a good starting point is the Google Aristotle Project findings .
- Explicit written and explained expectations. All the great teachers I encountered spent a great deal of preparation and class time sharing their expectations to the students. In pedagogical jargon we call them 'learning outcomes'. They are usually a statement that starts with “upon completion of this course, the student will be able to…”.
Writing these statements in the syllabus forces teachers to be clear about their expectations. Then, presenting them to students forces the teachers to develop further clarity. Writing the objectives and taking time with the team, through interactive discussions or team-building to align their actions with the expectations is equally critical when managing a team. How would you complete this sentence for your team: Upon completion of the project/task, the team member will be able to…. ?
- Clear grading criteria directly related to explicit expectations are clear evaluation and performance assessments. A shared understanding of the performance criteria and expectations reduces the perception of unfairness and keeps the student/team motivated in doing the task. This human interaction and structure applies again to the so-called professional world. It is even more important in a professional setting with a longer-term interaction. Such practices can support the manager in assessing the team but also the employees in evaluating the alignment between their needs and what the job requires from them. It can save frustration from both ends.
2. The benefits of kind feedback
When we take on a teaching role, we tend to project our own learning experiences with education. Usually we try to provide the opposite of a personal bad experience or one that transformed us positively. Therefore, the mission of a teacher is one of human development and guidance. Transferring this mindset into management can do wonders. Especially because most managers are promoted for their technical rather than human skills. And paraphrasing Peter Drucker, this skill becomes vital in a knowledge-focused environment.
When grading or providing feedback, great teachers aim at guiding the learner’s growth. Teachers that made me grow the most are those that addressed my weaknesses openly and suggested ways of improvement. Teaching can therefore improve our feedback skills. Theories in pedagogy recommend giving frequent feedback during the learning process.
Also, in a classroom, we foster critical thinking and problem identification. Great faculty praises a student for bringing up a problem. They rarely wait for the final examination to provide and exchange feedback. Most importantly, most great teachers remind us of our strengths and how they can help us overcome our shadows. Bringing these habits and know-how into the management setting can provide great benefits for both the manager and the team.
3. Meetings that build collaboration
Every good teacher will tell you, a great class is one where exchange, debate, heated discussions about and questioning of the subject matter happen. And as a result, it often leads to faculty learning more than the students. A large part of a teacher’s job is to design and prepare the course. The contact time is then mere delivery, because it’s “student time”. And the more time and effort is dedicated to the moment before the classroom, the more effective is the contact time. For instance, over the years, in pedagogy, it has been tested that formats of flipped classrooms provided more engaged and effective learning.
Transposed to the workplace, this means that the team meets after an extensive preparation and analysis. The purpose of the meeting would be to put everything together as a group, appreciate the effort of each one, see how their job and tasks fit into the overall mission and finally coordinate and prepare for next steps. Such meetings, much like classrooms, are more effective to foster autonomy, motivation and more serene working conditions because they establish effective and reliable collaborations. The job of the manager, much like the teacher, is to orchestrate the tasks before the meeting and ensure that every participant comes prepared.
4. Support individual growth for a collective one
Current changes in sociology and technology are transforming the job description of managers and teachers. With knowledge being accessible to everyone, faculty is not the sole source of information, theory and knowledge. As a consequence, learners expect them now to inspire them, to go beyond their competencies and guide them through their analysis and thinking capabilities. These same learners join the workplace with the same expectations about their work environment. A quick scan of the latest articles on leadership and you will observe the same list of required capabilities.
While technology is pushing the limits of computation, data connection, trend analysis, data analysis, humans work on developing their emotional, irrational, human competencies. Companies are testing hiring methods based on competencies rather than diploma and name lists on resumes. Professionals turn to post-study certifications and skill development to complement their knowledge base but mostly to enhance their skills.
Great teachers focus on the growth of each individual along with the common collective one in their classroom. Because they know that there are two phases of learning methods. The individual one, during which the learners apply individual learning techniques to complete the identified gap in skills or knowledge. And the collective one, where debating, exchanging, sharing helps people consolidate their learnings.
In sum, faculty and managers have this unique privilege to be paid to coach individual human growth and enhance it by embedding it in a collective, constructive and inclusive learning. This is the main collective finding we came to at EHL after more than 4 years in the digital transformation journey. But this is another story...