The first topic in our discussion on the 7 Traits of a Great Leader, we’ll take a look at the leader as a teacher:
“…and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” 2 Timothy 2:2
Have you ever delegated a task to someone on your team and told them to just “figure it out” without really offering any sort of direction? How did that work out for you? Did they knock it out of the park?
Let me start with a story about how failing to teach your people properly can cause you to fall flat on your face as a leader…
Back in my geeky Air Force radar technician days, I picked things up much quicker than my peers. Because of this, squadron leadership would assign me to lead small groups of airmen who were new to our shop and to train them on the equipment.
We worked on some very finicky, delicate, and expensive stuff. It wasn’t exactly rocket science, but it was highly technical. You couldn’t turn on our radar system without following an 80-step process outlined in the system manual. One day, I let a few of our somewhat new guys head out there and do it themselves. I’d walked them through the process once or twice and showed them how to follow it by the book.
I figured they could follow the checklist and just make it happen.
Well, later that afternoon I get an angry call from the air traffic controllers in our squadron complaining that they had no picture. There was a training mission going on, and several mission-critical pieces of the puzzle had not come together because the radar wasn’t operating properly. Air traffic controllers couldn’t get their picture, which meant they couldn’t scramble our fighter jets to intercept enemy aircraft looking to destroy our base, which means those guys could sneak in and get by our defenses.
What happened was, my guys missed a few red flags early on in the process that someone with my experience could easily have identified. Building on the foundation of those few mistakes, the rest of the process did not go forward properly. Sure, they followed the steps properly, and it would appear as though they turned on the system successfully, but that was clearly not the case.
In Mountain Home, Idaho, we were pretty safe from enemy aircraft, but…
What if this was for real?
What if someone was killed because I didn’t teach my guys well?
Read that last question one more time…
Now we don’t all live and work in the arena of life and death, but I would hope that you could learn from my mistake. What I failed to do was adequately instruct those airmen whom I was responsible for. I sent them out to perform a task for which I had not provided them with the necessary tools to complete properly. I completely failed to be what every follower needs his or her leader to be; a teacher.
You can’t expect to be an effective leader if you aren’t willing to teach those entrusted to/employed by you. It’s so easy to delegate; to pass tasks down the trough with a checklist or an operations manual attached and expect great results. Yes, we can and should delegate appropriate tasks, but never without providing our people with the means to accomplish them.
Don’t get me wrong. We’re not talking about micro-managing here. Not even a little bit.
Your job as the teacher is to cast the vision, lay out the fundamentals, detail the process, and then get out of the way. Show your followers each step in the process. Explain why each step is important and how it fits into the scheme. Listen to their questions and explore their suggestions. Give your people everything they need to be technically successful and to produce the level of results you need per your organizations particular standards, but leave them room to be creative. When you succeed as a teacher, they’ll not only satisfy your technical requirements, but they’ll exceed them in ways you probably never even imagined.
Leave your employees/team members/volunteers room to breath.
We do our best work when we experience autonomy. I heard Daniel Pink speak on this last week at Catalyst, which I’ll talk more about in future posts. Autonomy is one of the key ingredients in getting people motivated.
We don’t want compliance. We don’t want to be managed. We want to arrive by our own steam. We want to be empowered and encouraged. An effective leader teaches his or her followers to complete the task at hand, but more importantly empowers them to bring their individual art to the project and, ultimately, knock it out of the park.
In my story, I empowered my people without adequately teaching them, and expected positive results. The outcome was disastrous.
Don’t repeat my mistake.
What do you need to do in order to be a better teacher today?