The Best Leaders are Great Teachers

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Chloe Xu
Director, Australia

The Best Leaders are Great Teachers

What sets the best leaders from the generic ones? After studying world-class leaders for over a decade, Finkelstein (2018) finds out the best leaders are often great teachers. They are particularly good at giving on-going personalised instructions to their direct reports. By contrast, other leaders only use more traditional employee management and development tools, such as formal introductions, regular catch-ups, performance reviews, and career planning.

Finkelstein (2018) also believes that by following the rules of teaching setup by those best leaders, managers will do better in terms of employee management and development. Among others, what, when, and how to teach are three key points of teaching.

The most relevant and useful lessons from the best leaders focus on three topics: professionalism, details of the business, and life lessons.
- Professionalism: Ethics and professional conducts.
- Details of the business: Extensive knowledge and experience about the business as well as the industry.
- Life lessons: Deeper life wisdom.

The best leaders are good at capturing and creating every opportunity to impart their wisdom, ranging from on-the-job training or an informal conversation conducted in a more-relaxed setting.

The leaders Finkelstein studied usually use these techniques to make sure their employees can digest the lessons: customised instructions, questions, and modelling.
- Customised instructions: tailoring lessons and support that suit each subordinate's personality, needs, and development plan.
- Questions: sharp, relevant, and probing questions that can further the learning outcomes.
- Modelling: leading by setting up examples.

As a leader, when you embrace the role of teacher, you will improve employee loyalty, team performance, and of course, business outcomes. Do you agree?

Source: Finkelstein, S. 2018. The Best Leaders Are Great Teachers. Harvard Business Review, 96(1): 142-145.

  Anthony Jackson
Professor, Korea (South)

What Makes the Best Leader?

I have to disagree with Finkelstein because I thin (...)

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