The Leader as a Teacher !

‘What is the role of a leader?’ asked a student to a business leader.  This was an interaction that students were having with Business leaders. The CEO in question, spent a whole lot of time explaining different components of his role. From strategy, keeping the organization together, visioning and several other elements all of which made cogent sense.

 ‘Teaching’ / ‘training’ employees didn’t figure in that list !

The case for leaders in a ‘teaching’ role has been made several times.  Many leading organization organizations invest in their leaders becoming trainers. However, most  others prefer the easy route of sending their employees to top business schools for an education. Or to a multitude of training programs delivered by external experts.  No. This post has no intension of deriding B-schools or external experts..

The B-Schools and experts being hubs of expertise, knowledge, research and education isn’t up for debate. Not up for debate is the value that B-schools / consultants bring in cross pollination of ideas from different industries.

But when those in leadership positions stand up and teach, employees in the organization are not necessarily looking for the latest research or quotes from a text book. Employees are looking for personal experiences and contexts. Stories of how the business leaders did it, and connecting it to concepts and understanding.

This is the experience of Becton Dickenson. A medical technology company


This particular paper throws quite an insight
. Noel Tichy is quoted. It goes “ We have looked at winning companies – those that consistently outperform competitors and reward shareholders – and found that they’ve moved beyond being learning organizations to become teaching organizations…that’s because teaching organizations are more agile, come up with better strategies and are able to implement them more effectively….

Teaching organizations do share with learning organization the goal that everyone continually acquire new knowledge and skills. But to do that, they add the more critical goal that everyone pass their learning on to others…. In a teaching organisatin, leaders benefit just by preparing to teach others. Because the teachers are people with hands-on experience within the organization – rather than outside consultants – the people being taught learn relevant, immediately useful concepts and skills. 

Teaching organizations are better able to achieve success and maintain it because their constant focus is on developing people to become leaders”

Players like Apple made clear of their intentions a while earlier.

Closer home, Infosys  has legendary figures like NR.Narayanmurthy and other senior folks standing up and delivering programs at the Infosys Leadership Institute.  At the other end of the world, Apple is pursuing a similar end as it transitioned from the Steve Jobs era.

A key to sustenance of a particular culture that an organization hopes to foster over time, are ‘stories’ about the organization. About incidents, responses, hits, misses.  Each of those stories hold in them a treasure trove,  for the seeding of thoughts about the organization and what it deeply values.

And who better to tell the story than the men and women who have lived through it or had a part to play in it. Narrating a story, connecting it to an academic framework and sewing it up with an organizational case study would provide a congruence of concept and context that is unbeatable.

A leaders ability to deliver a compelling narrative instills in employees a certain sense of whats real.  Stirring imagination thoughts and perhaps trigger a debate or a challenge!

It has a corollary benefit too. To the leader himself ! Imagine the level of reinforcement that comes from narrating the story. Take into consideration the cascade of clarity that emerges from answering questions from young minds that have bloomed elsewhere.

It is critical to the long term health of any organisation !

2 thoughts on “The Leader as a Teacher !

  1. Thanks for bringing these good thoughts to us in your new website. I look forward to more and more…..

    Teaching is an activity in which the teacher learns more than the students! That’s my personal experience!! A corollary: Those who have stopped learning need not teach, no benefits at all for them.

    I have always felt that a good teacher must be like ‘Vetal’ in the Vikram and Vetal [Ghost] story – The ghost asks the King Vikram to answer the poser, after telling a story, and break his silence.

    The learner must think and verbalise the essence of the story. 🙂


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