“Great idea boss … you go first.”
Haven’t we all been in a really good learning event when someone challenges the proceedings by telling the organizers that they got the invitations wrong? The remark usually falls along the lines of acknowledging the value of the course content but that it needs to be taught to the boss or ‘those other people’ first.
In other words, “I can’t really put this into practice until my boss goes first.”
A surprising finding has come later in my career, as I sit in management meetings and hear a similar complaint. A senior leader will say, “This organization would work so much better if only employees would act differently.” In other words, “great idea employee, you go first.”
After those comments, we are stuck, taking a mindset that those outside the room own the obligation to improve. And that’s where a leaders-as-teachers practice becomes the enabler to get unstuck and move forward. With leaders in the room, and leaders actively teaching and role modeling, we can all take great ideas and act together.
I’ve been fortunate to be witness to many such ‘move forward’ moments in my career.
Awhile back, I invited Steve, my company’s CEO, to kick off a new manager training class. He proceeded to amaze everyone by previewing one of the course topics. “This is an important program for you and the company, but I have to warn you that the trainers are going to make you read your leadership 360 report. While the feedback isn’t always pleasant, I’ve found it valuable.”
Steve then proceeded to share highlights of his most recent 360 report, quickly noting his high scores and strengths, but then transitioning to a low score on the report. “My team is telling me they want more feedback from me, and while I thought I was doing enough, it’s important for me as their boss to provide the coaching they need.” Steve went on to offer a story of how a former boss shared an observation of Steve that was insightful and a defining growth moment in his career.
With that opening session from the CEO, the remainder of the program was magical and reminded me of the power of leaders-as-teachers. By being in the room and serving as an active guide, Steve demonstrated:
- No leader is perfect, not even the CEO. Have the humility and confidence to be authentic and transparent.
- It’s smart to be open, to know yourself better, and to strive to improve throughout your career. If you are an effective leader, learning is always on your agenda.
- Part of the leader’s job is to teach and raise-up other leaders.
Steve was a leader who went first.
Steve would return to open classes on a regular basis and share his feedback story until one day he did something different. His introduction was the same but he added that a new 360 report gave him much higher marks on providing feedback. With a grin he added, “The comments informed me that my employees saw the progress and remarked that they were now getting plenty of feedback so no need to do more! So now I’m working on something else.”
And as everyone chuckled at the remark, I added one more item to what he did well as a teaching leader:
- As you teach, keep it all in perspective and don’t take yourself too seriously.
All in all, Steve was a great asset to have in learning venues, and I wish it was that easy with others I invited into the room to be a teaching leader. In fact, a leaders-as-teachers approach can be hard work for all concerned. There is a likelihood to experience more of the downside of this approach than reap its benefits. While the “why to do it’ may be compelling, the ‘how to do it well’ is equally important but less known.
© Kevin D. Wilde