What makes a teacher great?
More than anything else, it is the ability to help the student learn alone.
Many theorists point out that one of the most important roles of a leader is to create new leaders. Whether he or she sets him/herself as a role model or uses teaching, mentoring or coaching skills, the leader unleashes the potential of the associates with their daily actions. By that, the employees are empowered to take actions that will inevitably move them out of their comfort zone and that way enable growth and development. Thus, the second postulate of leadership obscures the leader as a teacher.
Authenticity and personal development
An important aspect of building knowledge and skills through experience is, in fact, our authenticity. All that makes us unique and different from others. This often involves challenging others’ views, established rules or generally accepted beliefs.
In order to be a good teacher, who supports the development of his / her associates, a leader should, in the first place devote himself/herself to personal development. The most difficult part of personal development is precisely the struggle with personal beliefs. As Leonardo da Vinci used to say, “The greatest deception of a person is one that comes from his/her own understanding of the world.” Learning and developing means questioning one’s own understandings, beliefs and assumptions. And that is often the hardest thing to do.
Many people associate leadership with an exaggerated ego. The ego is the first barrier to self-examination. A useful practice that a leader can introduce to avoid the trap of stagnation (and thus, in fact, setbacks) is to periodically check the accuracy of the following statements:
- I am an independent person;
- I am ready/willing to admit mistakes;
- I question the “conventional wisdom”;
- I have changed a deep-rooted belief, because of practical experience;
- I consider the accident as an opportunity for maturation;
- I view error as an opportunity to learn.
Many contemporary leaders have created their attitudes and style by reading books and attending various trainings. While working with them, one can hear the well-known phrases and principles advocated by particular schools or popular educators. But if we spend some time working with these leaders, we will notice that there is a big difference between what they say and how they really act. The journey from reading about leadership to demonstrating leadership behaviors is a long one and, in many ways, consists of experiences. Very personal, often painful. Only those leaders who have often enough questioned their experiences and asked themselves questions:
- What experiences have had the biggest impact on my life?
- How have these experiences colored my views and observations?
- Can I reconsider some of the conclusions I have drawn from these experiences?
can expect leadership to become their mindset, lifestyle and an authentic part of their personality.
Re-examination of the source
Since birth, we have been developing our own attitudes, assumptions and beliefs. They help us cope with new, unfamiliar situations more easily and with less effort. We do this, by (unconsciously) comparing new to known situations and linking them to an appropriate attitude and emotion.
What is often unknown to us, when it comes to attitudes, is the sources we rely on. What is the base of our views? In order to check the presence of the “experience before theory” principle in our leadership style, but also of personality in general, we can do the following test: Select one area of life and write a few attitudes that you have about that area. After that, ask yourself:
- How did I get to this attitude?
- How strongly do I believe in it?
- Why do I keep it? What would make me change my attitude?
- Which of my views inspire the strongest emotions?
- What sources are most influential in creating my views: media / books / friends / experts / co-workers / personal experience?
- Is there an attitude that is completely created without personal experience? How could I create an experience that proves/disapproves this attitude?
It may happen that leaders, in the process of preparing for an important meeting or a presentation, ask some of their close colleagues to be their “greatest opponents”. This actually means that, by challenging most of what they hear, their colleagues will help them find weaknesses or ambiguities in their own presentation.
You can do the same with your beliefs and attitudes. In this case, it is much more effective if you do the work. Do your best and find the strongest possible counter-argument by looking at your belief from a distance or in the mirror. Sometimes it is enough to ask the question: “Would this belief change if I lived in another country / if I were from a different family / if I was 20 years younger / if I was of the opposite sex …?”
Top leaders will agree that not having a connection with their own experience is the primary cause of their poor decisions. In addition, most of them will tell you in confidence that they made the biggest mistakes precisely in situations where they trusted advisors, experts and lawyer, rather than their intuition and experience. The best leaders know that experience is the heart of wisdom.
But, gathering experiences and attitudes cannot go on indefinitely. In order to progress, grow and develop in addition to the learning process, particular attention should be paid to the process of unlearning – rejecting old beliefs, attitudes and theories that are no longer useful in the time and place we are today.
Imagine putting one brick in the trunk of your car each time you stop to refuel. As strong as the engine is and the car is new, you will hardly be able to reach the desired speed with a trunk full of bricks. Therefore, it is necessary to make the selection from time to time and get rid of the bricks that are more of a burden to us, than a benefit. This is the case with attitudes and beliefs, as well as knowledge. Sometimes what we know can prevent us from viewing the situation openly and blocking us from gaining new experience from it.
Learning from anti-role model
In the process of leading others, the leader serves as a role model. Leadership is a key strength of good leaders. But it does not always happen that our leaders were our role models. Because of this, we can often come across the phrase, “Be the leader you wish you had.”
To achieve this, we can use one of the most effective ways to learn from mistakes. But not ours!
What some leaders learned from their worst bosses and executives. Some were autocrats, others micro-managers, some did not tolerate ignorance and inexperience, but without giving the slightest opportunity to acquire them. All those “bad” leaders taught them how not to do. And for this, they are grateful.
So, for you to be able to apply this effective way of learning, it is enough to write down the names of, for example, three people who made mistakes that you would like to avoid and then ask yourself: how can I learn from their mistakes? It may be that your biggest anti-role models are exactly the biggest role models in other areas. Your objectivity will help you accurately distinguish between what you want to look like and what you want to avoid.
Finally, let’s get back to the beginning.
Only now, that you have worked on your authenticity, growth and development, are you ready to offer an arena for learning and gaining your own experiences as and resource to your employees.
Only when you are balanced you can be in a fully supportive position and be a part of the development of your people. You will become a kind leader, who is able to support employees to learn on their own, from their own experiences.
Coaching as a leadership style is unrivaled in this segment of leadership. Partnering with employees, fully respecting attitudes and principles, challenging their reality and believing in an employee’s potential are some of the principles of coaching as a way of leading. These are just the right prerequisites for encouraging an employee’s responsibility for their own development. Just what we needed in order to develop new leaders.
As you review your beliefs and prepare a supportive arena for the development of your people, I will prepare the story of the third postulate of Renaissance leadership: Continuous Enrichment of the Senses.