Monday, October 17, 2011

The teacher as a leader

I am in the middle of my first semester as a business school teacher. After seven classes conducted, one large assignment graded, numerous meetings, emails and phone calls with the students, partners and guest lecturers, after reading and preparing material several evenings every week during past few months I feel that I have learned tremendously lot.

One of the most important a-ha moments has been - which I always suspected but never felt that well on my own skin before - that the good teacher really needs to be a good leader. The set of skills required for both roles is undoubtedly very similar. Well, the teacher is the leader of his/her course. But what I refer to here is a good teacher.

I am surely just on my way towards qualifying as a good teacher. But I am extremely thankful for the leadership experience my involvement in AIESEC has given to me. I can't imagine how hard it would be for me to bare the responsibility of teaching without having led several teams and organisations first. Here are but some of the lessons about leadership skills in teaching I have learnt so far:

Lesson #1: There are different styles of teaching, just like there are different styles of leadership. One can choose to be autocratic teacher and exercise one's authority by scaring students off by unforeseen exercises and unexpected difficult questions. Many leaders exercise their authority mostly by fear (of being laid off, of being given too much work and so on). One can choose to be democratic and involving instead - both as a teacher and as a leader.

Lesson #2: Presentation skills are crucial both in teaching as well as in leadership. I have seen too many times professors - and managers - who talk long without noticing (or without being willing to notice?) that their audience is mentally not with them. (I have surely fallen into this trap some times too). However, both students in the class as well as people in the organisations appreciate clear and motivating communication on the topics relevant for them.

Lesson #3: Involving is important in both teaching as well as leadership. It seems to me that many teachers and organisation leaders who have mastered the oral skills think that motivating words alone can move the mountains. However, both the learning curve and effectiveness of work becomes higher when students/members of organisations have a stake in the process. Discussion, group-solving, team-circles - all that works as great methods both in the classroom as well as in the offices.

Lesson #4: Everyone appreciates good feedback. I have given detailed feedback to all groups of students who submitted their assignments to me. After that, several of them wrote in the assessment sheets that I collect in the end of each class that it was the very first time someone at school has given them a real feedback (not just the grade) on the effort they made. There are far too many employees in the business world who get feedback on their work just too seldom too.

Lesson #5: Structured approach and skilful guidance are crucial in both business classes as well as in the business organisations. My students appreciated when I managed to be clear and well-organised, while they got confused when I did not provide good enough guidelines in the process. Every team expects clarity and structure from its leader too.

I am sure that this list will be filled up with more lessons like that. These are just very few initial thoughts I have now. All I want is that all these lessons will help me to become (and constantly challenge me as) both a good teacher and a good leader.
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