The days of hoarding information for power are coming to a close. Presidents and CEOs these days – the good ones, anyway – are teachers, as I pointed out in an earlier column.
So what do great leaders teach?
I’ve seen five areas where great leaders can coach their peers and team members into better professionals: the job function, the industry, professionalism and ethics, career management, and leadership.
The job function
This is the obvious place to start teaching. It is the other end of the learning stick that people on your team are holding onto. It is unreasonable to expect employees to pick everything up on their own. You can pass out manuals or hold training sessions, but most learning happens on the job, and it is reinforced through action. So teaching the basics plus the nuances and the tricks of the job, while vitally important, is only the starting point.
This teaching element should be obvious, but it is often only skimmed or neglected entirely. If you are bringing someone into your business who is new to your industry, expect that not only will the person not know much about the industry, he or she will also be at a loss as to how to get a foothold. Your industry knowledge will be largely informal – a collection of experiences and rules of thumb you will have developed over the years – and it is probably all stored in your head. Unless you have been pro-active in writing down what you have learned and internalized about your industry, you will have to pull out the best of what you know and pass it along.
Professionalism and ethics
For some of you, this will be an expectation of your employees: that they come with it when they join your organization, or acquire it quickly as they grow and contribute. It is dangerous to assume people will have the same outlook on these topics. First of all, you never know someone’s complete history and what they have seen or been taught in the past. Secondly, we live and work in a diverse environment now, with different cultural norms.
For younger or more junior team members, professionalism and ethics might be the most valuable topics you can teach. Juniors tend to stumble their way through situations where their professionalism is tested, and they can feel very isolated without coaching. Creating a non-judgmental environment where your people know they can come to you for advice is a good first step. Pro-actively passing on “what if” scenarios and “when I was early in my career” lessons is even better.
You can hope that those you develop will never leave you, or you can accept that you will always experience some turnover (and that it is healthy). Helping your people manage their careers is the right thing to do. It will come back to you in spades, but ultimately if you care about your people you will want to see them succeed wherever they may go. We think it is part of a leader’s job to teach those around them how to stay current, how to approach a possible promotion or a transition out of an organization, and how to manage their professional network.
The last one is the least obvious. If you are the leader and you are self-aware, you will know a lot about leadership. You will know what works and what doesn’t work for you – your style. And you will know what works for others with a different personality or orientation. You will have war stories – good and bad. These lessons are invaluable to those around you.
There’s a saying that smart people learn from their mistakes, and smarter people learn from the mistakes of others. Teach your people about how to lead. Tell them about management mistakes, and why they happened, and what you did to fix those situations. The flip side applies too – don’t be so humble that you don’t also pass on stories about smart moves you’ve made that have led to great results. Teaching your team how to lead will shorten its development cycles and help your business grow faster or get better.
If you are running an SMB, carving out time for teaching is part of your job.
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mark Healy, P.Eng, MBA, is a partner at Satov Consultants – a management consultancy with practice areas in corporate strategy, customer strategy and operations strategy. Mark’s focus areas inside the customer strategy practice include consumer insights, customer experience, innovation and go-to-market strategy. He is a regular speaker and media contributor on topics ranging from marketing to strategy, in telecom, retail and other sectors. Mark is known as much for his penchant for loud socks and a healthy NFL football obsession as he is for his commitment to Ivey and recent Ivey grads. He currently serves as chair of the Ivey Alumni Association board of directors. Mark lives with his wife Charlotte and their bulldog McDuff in Toronto.