Great Leaders Are Great Teachers, Part One

Great Leaders Are Great Teachers, Part One

Leaders must be effective teachers.
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Clayton Porter, my wife Margaret's father, died in February. He was a wonderful, wonderful person—a great dad, and a great family man. He was a teacher his whole life and he did what he could while he was on this earth to add value to people's lives. When we had the memorial service, Margaret stood up and spoke because she's the oldest daughter in the family. One of the things she said really touched the whole audience that day: the most important lessons that you usually learn in life—the basics, the things that you're going to put under your belt and carry with you all the way—you learn in childhood.

She probably spent ten minutes talking about three of the most important lessons her dad ever taught her, and there wasn't a dry eye in the place when she finished. After she sat down beside me, I squeezed her hand and told her what a great job that she had done. Her words reminded me that people who are effective in influencing others have the ability to communicate effectively and have the ability to teach effectively. George Bernard Shaw said, "He who can does; and he who cannot teaches."

I would respond to that by saying that good leaders have the ability to communicate and teach. A person may be able to teach yet not lead; but a person who leads successfully also teaches successfully. How else do you persuade everyone in an organization, whether that means 50 employees or 50,000, to move in the same direction? How do you refocus the staff around a scaled-down strategy to survive an economic slump? How do you ensure that people at every level understand the priorities of the moment? How do you develop the leaders of tomorrow? Quite simply—you teach.

Here are the first seven tips that'll help you teach your people more effectively.

1. It's not about you, it's about them.
When you're going to communicate, always understand that you're not the star. It's not about you, it's about the people with whom you're trying to communicate.

2. Study your students.
Great teachers know their material and their students. To know your material and not your students means that you have something to give but no effective method to deliver it.

3. Students take risks when teachers create a safe environment.
It's important for you as a leader to create an environment where there's a sense of security for the person you want to develop. Learning requires vulnerability: when the atmosphere and the environment allow room for vulnerability, material is absorbed very quickly.

4. Great teachers exude passion as well as purpose.
The difference between a good teacher and a great one isn't expertise. It comes down to passion—passion for the material and passion for teaching.

5. Students learn when teachers show them how much they need to learn.
Most students fail to see the gap between where they are and where they need to be. If you fail to see that gap, you lose your incentive for learning.

6. Keep it clear and keep it simple.
The essence of teaching—and learning—is communication; and the biggest issue that leaders face is whether people understand them.

7. Practice vulnerability without sacrificing credibility.
To some people, being a teacher or a leader means appearing as though you have all the answers. Any sign of vulnerability or ignorance is seen as a sign of weakness. These people can make the worst teachers. Be honest about what you know and what you don't know, but do try to emphasize the things you do know and the things you actually can teach.

In the next issue, Dr. Maxwell will present the eight remaining tips that will help you to teach your people more effectively.

This article is used by permission from Dr. John C. Maxwell's free monthly e-newsletter 'Leadership Wired' available at

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