Great Teacher x Great Message x Great Example = Great Leader. In other words if someone is a great teacher of a great message and also lives by what he teaches (exemplifies the message) he will be a great leader.
To make this formula more relevant, a CEO has to ‘teach’ the organization’s vision, mission, values and objectives to employees (more specifically the top leadership structures of an organization, but not excluding the general population); ensure the message he teaches is a credible one; and then authenticate the message through direct and indirect behavior. So my theory is that if he did this consistently success will follow and he will be a great leader.
A great teacher makes such a difference, as we see in the film Dead Poet Society. A great teacher fills up a class. A great teacher changes lives, opens eyes and inspires change of behavior. Think of a great teacher that influenced your life.
We are often told that great leaders are great communicators. And of course the intent of communicating a message is often for the receiver to understand and remember what was communicated, and perhaps to even adjust behavior accordingly? Also, when someone communicates and another learns it means the communicator is a teacher. One could say that communicating is synonymous with teaching.
However, using the word teaching rather than communicating somehow changes the context. To be a great teacher one must communicate something (share, explain, describe, make relevant, and so on); then verify theoretical understanding, that the message was accurately received (ask questions, allow for questions to be asked); and perhaps finally the recipient must be tested and measured in some way, preferably after practical application.
I believe that when a leader views himself as a teacher first, rather than a communicator he will be more complete in his approach to cascading the vision and purpose into the organization. The same goes for a manager that needs to teach the branch plan, rather than only communicate it to his team. An attitude of “I teach our vision and purpose to my people” as opposed to “I communicate our vision and purpose to my people” may have a much deeper and lasting effect. Teaching implies listening, conversing to understand and applying for results.
Some foundation blocks on which good teaching is built have to be:
- interest in and caring for the students (knowing their needs, interests, etc in order to make the message relevant);
- caring about the subject matter (believing in and having a passion for what is taught);
- understanding the subject matter (I can believe in the universe and even be passionate about it, but I don’t necessarily understand it until I make the effort);
- ability to simplify the subject matter for others to understand (I can understand it myself, but I need to have the ability to simplify it for others to understand.
So imagine a leader that cares for his employees (really tries to understand their needs), who believes in and has a passion for the company vision, purpose, etc, who understands the vision and what the company stands for intimately, and who simplifies the message to employees.
Imagine further that this leader shares, explains, describes, makes relevant the message; then he verifies understanding by asking questions and allowing for questions to be asked; and finally he measures application through results as the message is implemented on all levels of the organization.
Now, take it one step further and imagine this leader achieves what really great teachers do – he inspires those that learnt the message to want to teach it to others. They can’t wait to get out there and teach those that report to them this incredible and interesting message. Surely this is what every leader wants. But, the best way of making this happen is for the leader to become a master teacher, with a great message, backed by accurate example.
The teacher may be great, but if the message is not true or accurate or remotely relevant to the audience it does not carry weight and convincing power. The message itself has to stand on its own feet, with the capacity to make sense, eventually, following a great teaching session, or not. It really helps the teacher when the message itself is credible and can stand up against harsh scrutiny and has already withstood the test of time or at the least, rigorous debate.
It is true that the messenger often lends credibility to the message. If Victor Matfield and myself taught the exact same message about what it takes to create a winning culture in a sports team, whom would you listen to?
It may also be true that a great teacher can make an average message sound great, or the converse of this, a weak teacher can make a great message sound average. But, obviously the best situation is to match a great teacher with a great message.
In the corporate environment therefore the CEO and Executive team should take the time to ensure that their message is an accurate and credible one, for obvious reasons, which includes the probability that not every member on the executive team is going to do a great job of teaching it.
Being a great teacher is important, but to uphold the credibility of the message the teacher has to live it himself. When the teacher’s behaviour is exemplary by being true to the message there is authenticity and credibility and the receiver senses integrity. Where there is integrity there is trust. Where there is trust there are committed followers. Where there are committed followers there is great leadership.
Remember that great example by itself can teach in a powerful way, especially from a distance or in situations where you have no formal hold on people. This is the spirit of LeadSA – stand up and be an example where you are. Example is a constant teacher, whether knowingly or unknowingly.
Great teaching happens through delivering the message and then authenticating, honoring and elevating it with example – my leader obviously believes in the message because he tries hard to live it; it is important enough to him.
Such a complete approach inspires followers to want to become great teachers that teach the great message themselves. And so one starts multiplying great leaders and leaves a legacy of a great organization that outlasts the leader.
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Do you recognize some areas in yourself or your team that need improvement? Email Adriaan on firstname.lastname@example.org for more on creating “Leadership Fit” leaders that generate successful movement (performance) inside your organisation.