Great Employees Want to Learn. Great Managers Know How to Teach.
“I’d like to work for a manager I can learn from.” This phrase has come up again and again in interviews I’ve conducted for my team at the World Economic Forum and from more junior folks who I’ve met through various mentoring programs. These people aren’t looking for someone to lecture them, they’re looking for someone who can help them build knowledge and skills as they work toward a valuable goal. As workers get more used to a fluid workplace, where longevity in one firm isn’t the goal and developing a portfolio of skills is more important, managers who can offer learning opportunities will be in high demand.
Having started my working life as a high school teacher, I’ve continued to find success when I use my teaching style to lead teams. Reflecting on how I’ve managed cases and projects, there are three traits which all good teachers share and managers in any field can learn: how to define and communicate goals, how to identify and build necessary skills, and how to create opportunities for growth. Put into practice, these attributes can help to create a positive environment filled with motivated and creative people, inside a school, a business, or any organization that relies on people to be creative and dedicated to shared goals.
Define goals and communicate them clearly
Every year, a teacher has to develop a plan for where the class will be at the end of the year with concrete steps for how to get there. The goal might be to improve reading levels by at least one grade or to show understanding of theorems in geometry. The same is true for any organization — you need to have clearly articulated goals that serve a greater mission. And just as it is not motivating in a classroom to say, “We need to read Animal Farm because it’s on the district’s curriculum,” it is not enough to say “We have to write a report on cybersecurity threats because the firm needs something to sell.” It’s far better to say, “We will accomplish this task together because it is an important factor in achieving our shared goals” (whether the goal is to become a better reader or to become a leading threat analysis company).
Good communication about goals goes both ways. Just as it’s the manager’s responsibility to communicate organizational goals clearly, it’s also the boss’s obligation to listen to employee’s personal goals and, where they align with the overall mission, support them and help build the skills necessary to achieve those shared goals.
Identify and build your team’s skills
The ability to understand and build skills is the core of effective teaching and a key management responsibility. A manager can’t lead a team if she doesn’t know what skills are needed to accomplish a goal and if she doesn’t know what the team is good at.
For a teacher, it’s standard to conduct formal assessments over the course of a year to gauge skills and measure growth. Very few organizations are going to sit all employees down for a formal skills assessment, but for adults, you just have to ask and observe. It is vital to discuss the skills and knowledge necessary to achieve success with your team and to understand, through discussion or through past experience what skills team members have and what skills they need to develop.
It’s also important, if employees are looking to build their own portfolio of skills, to ensure that they have opportunities to take on assignments that allow for that kind of growth as well. An effective manager should be able to ensure that employees enjoy a good mix of tasks they can succeed at using current skills and stretch assignments that represent opportunities for growth.
Create opportunities for growth
When an employee says she is looking for a manager she can learn from, the employee is implicitly saying that she values opportunities for growth. No one wants to feel stagnant or like they’re not achieving anything. Good teachers, and effective leaders, help those under them grow by giving effective constructive feedback and by fostering a growth mindset.
Thinking like a teacher is invaluable here as well. When a manager understands that she is helping to grow skills and achieve shared goals, rather than just assessing performance, it’s far easier to give useful and constructive feedback. Likewise, creating a work environment that promotes growth and a mindset for growth helps not only employees, but ensures that the team can make new connections and develop novel ideas.
Helping employees grow has an additional benefit to the manager who does it well — the opportunity for personal professional growth. One of the best career tips I’ve received was from Jim Snabe, the former CEO of SAP and current Chairman of Maersk. He said that, in every organization, his first task was to begin training his replacement, so that when the opportunity came for his next step, there’d always be someone ready to fill his role and continue the team’s success. The teacher-leader, by continually growing and teaching her own team, paves the way for her own success.
September 26, 2018 at 04:13PM