Good leaders are good teachers. All of the traits of effective teaching cross over into effective leadership.
Taking the example of my best teachers – and the teacher I always aspire to be – I saw that they were model learners. They saw it as a strength to say: “I don’t understand – help me to see what you’re talking about.” They were always in the process of deepening their understanding, of knowing more, of deliberately refusing the mantle of “smartest person in the room.”
These great teachers put the subject – or problem – in the center and themselves to the side as a fellow learner with the rest of us struggling to understand.
One of my students once asked me: “Have you tried to do this homework you gave us?” The question stung because no, I had not. I assumed that the role was: I assign and you do. But her question completely changed my teaching. She showed me that if I wasn’t willing to do what I was asking my students to do, then I was an ineffective teacher.
From that day on, I began trying the work I was asking my students to do and it opened the way for me to be a much better teacher. Why? Because I could anticipate the pitfalls, the mistakes, the misunderstandings, and the difficulty of what I assigned.
Fast forward to my own practice as a teacher-leader and I find that it’s still good practice to attempt the work you are asking others to do. As a leader, you need to understand the problems you’re asking your team to solve. You need to have struggled with them yourself, to have shifted your perspective by putting yourself in the place of different people who will be affected by your decisions.
You need to do the homework.
Some people think it shows strength to stand in front of a group and say things like: “This is what we pay you for – figure it out.”
Ordering others to “figure out” what you don’t understand is weak and won’t help you grow as a problem-solver or a leader – or a person.