The days of hoarding information for power are coming to a close. Presidents and CEOs these days – the good ones, anyway – are teachers.
Jack Welch didn’t pioneer this idea, but he was ahead of his time when he was in charge of GE, and he has helped popularize the concept of leader-as-teacher in the years (and books) since moving on. One of his mantras was, and is: “As a leader, you have to have a teachable point of view.”
In a small or medium-sized business, the teaching aspect of management is even more important. You do not have an army at your disposal to execute your orders. You have a smaller team, and at the management level there’s likely a very small cohort of folks you trust to get stuff done. This has to change as you grow.
In simple terms, you’ll have to trust more people in your business to run with the ball. And the only way you’ll have confidence in them is if they are taught. Probably by you.
I have a very simple model I use in our development process: Learn. Act. Lead. Teach. Repeat. We think it is universally applicable, whether you run a restaurant, an accounting firm, or an auto-parts plant.
In every organization there are job levels, starting at whatever entry level is and working up toward management and eventually the head of the business. From the perspective of the employee, learn, act, lead, teach applies at each level – and repeat means that person has to start over at each level. If you follow the logic through, one implication is that once people reach the top, and until they reinvent themselves in the role, teaching is the crucial aspect of the job.
Learn and act
Whether we are talking about someone on your team or you as the head of your organization, learning and acting are the bare minimum. They are what prevent a team member from being fired and you from going bankrupt. A person has to sort out what the job is all about and then do that job well. This is survival.
Leading is what separates a few team members from the rest, and what separates many heads of SMBs from everyone else in their business. It is the ability to get others – plural – to do whatever job or role is in question. Leading can come in all kinds of forms, such as project management or inspiration or a straight-up accountability play.
Unfortunately, many professionals I run into feel that once they reach this development stage – a point where they are able to mobilize the organization to get stuff done – their job is done. This will work reasonably until your firm reaches a certain size. Many sociologists feel that the natural break comes when groups of people reach 15. I’ve experienced this directly – once your team, whether a business or a department or whatnot, crosses the 15 person threshold, it is difficult to maintain enough contact with each team member to adequately “manage” them. They have to be taught to stand on their own.
Teaching is, in turn, what separates great leaders from good ones. If you think about it, teaching should elevate your entire organization. The goal is to pass on what you know so that everyone can do more. It is the opposite of information hoarding. It is empowerment. It is the ’loop closing’ stage in the development cycle.
Nov. 16: What do great leaders teach? The five areas where they can coach peers and team members into better professionals. Look for it on the Your Business home page.
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.