What sets the best leaders apart from the rest? Being a great teacher. And not just the kind of teaching that happens during a formal review. The kind of teaching that happens naturally, but intentionally, will leave you with a highly effective team. The Harvard Business Review did a study on what sets some of the best leaders apart from the rest. They found that these “star managers” knew how important consistent, intentional one-on-one teaching to their direct reports. They found that those types of leaders led some of the most high-functioning teams. The author said, “… the exceptional leaders I studied were teachers through and through.” These lessons are taught in the weeds — the day-to-day — of the employee’s lives. The Harvard Business Review recommends three different types of teaching in the workplace:  

1. Professionalism.

How do you lead peer to peer? How do you give and accept constructive feedback? As a leader, how do you practice integrity in the workplace? These are all valuable lessons that any leader could benefit from finding the answers to.

2. Points of Craft.

Are you an expert in your craft? Are there technical things you could teach someone about your process or otherwise? Use your extensive knowledge and experience to teach those who have less of them.

3. Life Lessons.

Not all of your lessons have to be centered around work. As a leader, you have probably accumulated a lot of life lessons over the years. Maybe it’s about family/work balance, building relationships, being healthy spiritually or otherwise.


When is the best time to teach?

  “The successful leaders I studied didn’t wait for formal reviews or even check-ins. They seized and created opportunities to impart wisdom.” There is never going to be a “perfect” timing, and great leaders won’t wait for that time to come. Here are a few suggestions the article has for seizing teaching opportunities:  

1. Schedule time to get out of the office.

A lot of these leaders that were studied took their “protégés” out of the office environment to have their one-on-ones. Schedule a monthly lunch or coffee outside of the office, or plan something unusual and different that gets you out from behind your desk.

2. Personalize lessons as they come up.

If you noticed someone do something in a meeting or a presentation, or you see them stumbled or struggle, take that time to pull them aside and give them a teachable moment. Something they can do better next time. It’s also important to know your subordinate well enough to approach them in a way they respond best to.

3. Ask key questions.

Sometimes the best lessons come in the form of questions. “Star leaders also take a page from Socrates and teach by asking sharp, relevant questions, often in the course of furthering their own learning.”

[bctt tweet="Sometimes the best lessons come in the form of questions." username="dukematlock"]

4. Leading by example.

When in doubt, lead by example. Show those who work under you how situations should be handled by allowing them to watch how you handle said situation. If you can, go over why you went about it the way you did and the process you used to come to that decision.

[bctt tweet="When in doubt, lead by example." username="dukematlock"]

  As I’ve said before, I wholeheartedly believe in the powerful impact of mentorship and teaching. As leader, it’s our responsibility to train up those who are under us in order to help them become the best leaders they can be too. Not only will it allow them to grow as leaders, it will positively affect us as well. This study shows that even a little bit of one-on-one teaching goes a long way. See for yourself! How can you be intentional about teaching a valuable lesson to one of your teammates this week?    


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