Leaders as Teachers: The Next Generation

Leaders as Teachers has been especially useful for teaching business strategy and change processes as leaders tie the concepts to actual business imperatives.

Would the leaders of your organization be willing to serve as teachers of strategy, innovation, new product development, or a new diversity initiative? How well equipped are they at using blogging and other social media to teach?

Ed Betof popularized the idea in his book, “Leaders as Teachers.” Ed is a senior fellow at The Conference Board, president of Betof Associates LLC, former senior fellow and academic director of the Executive Program in Workplace Learning Leadership at Wharton, and former worldwide vice president of Talent Management and chief learning officer at global medical technology company BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company). His new book, “Leaders as Teachers Action Guide” (ASTD Press), available in spring 2014, provides an opportunity to examine the evolution of the Leaders as Teachers movement in training and development.

“Leaders as Teachers” has been successfully implemented at many organizations, with BD often cited as a leader. At BD, more than 550 leaders were used as teachers. The motivation for such initiatives is to create “learning organizations,” which, according to Noel Tichy, the author of “Leadership Engine,” are “more agile, come up with better strategies, and are able to implement them more effectively.” A key principle behind the Leaders as Teachers approach is that no group of people has greater responsibility to drive the agenda of the organization than its leaders.

Leaders as Teachers has been especially useful for teaching business strategy, change processes, and other business imperatives as leaders tie the concepts to actual business needs.

According to Betof, there are several benefits from this approach:

  • Leaders benefit from preparing to teach others.
  • Leaders have hands-on experience.
  • Learners obtain company-relevant information tied to the organization’s goals and strategies.
  • The process helps drive the business agenda.
  • It develops the leaders as professionals.
  • The leaders learn from the participants.
  • Leaders learn to be better leaders and team members.
  • Leaders become more self-aware, which leads to self-improvement and better solutions to business problems.
  • When leaders teach, it helps in any culture change initiative.
  • Leaders as Teachers helps to clarify the organizational mission and values.
  • It increases communication flow extensively.
  • Leaders hear things they would never hear otherwise.
  • It is a cost-effective learning method, enabling external experts to be brought in only when needed.
  • Leaders as Teachers fosters talent scouting, the opportunity to observe and listen to others and meet people leaders otherwise would not necessarily meet.
  • It also leads to reverse talent scouting, giving employees a chance to meet and develop insights about their leaders that are based on experience.
  • Collaboration is improved by using the latest technology for immediate feedback.
  • New ideas can be taught via blogs and online streaming of points of view.
  • Cultural sensitivity improves, since local leaders can deliver the programs.
  • There are numerous opportunities for leaders to ask critical questions and hold up a mirror—the power of teaching in the moment.

Some leaders are coached in teaching methods, while others co-teach with internal instructors. Professionals design the courseware. There are several ways in which leaders teach:

  • Co-teaching a course
  • Speaking about leadership experiences
  • Lunch and Learns
  • Town Hall meetings
  • Coaching off-line during breaks

In a project to introduce a diversity and inclusion initiative in Latin America, Johnson & Johnson had an independent company prepare the presentation and the script and then rehearsed it with several of J&J’s top Latin leaders who taught three 20-minute sessions on “Micro-Inequities,” “Unconscious Bias,” and “What Diversity Means to Me” to attendees of Town Hall meetings across South America. This demonstration of the leaders’ commitment to promote and discuss diversity and inclusion had a much greater impact on demonstrating the credibility of the topic and the organization’s commitment than if the course had been delivered by internal or external trainers.

In the second example, expats on assignment or who recently returned from an international assignment are invited to speak on a panel to the participants in a course on “Working Globally,” which is taught by an outside firm. The real-life stories and links to business cases add significant value to the program. So many expats expressed an interest in teaching that there is a waiting list to speak. An unexpected consequence of the expats’ participation is an increase in the number of applicants for overseas assignments.

I’d like to request that any organizations already benefiting from a “Leaders as Teachers” approach to training and development send me their best practices and experiences for a future column. Those who would like to try this approach will benefit from Ed Betof ’s two books. Please contact me at ngoodman@global-dynamics.com for additional information.

Neal Goodman, Ph.D., is president of Global Dynamics, Inc., a training and development firm specializing in globalization, cultural intelligence, effective virtual workplaces, and diversity and inclusion. He can be reached at 305.682.7883 and at ngoodman@globaldynamics. com. For more information, visit http://www.global-dynamics.com.

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