I have a friend, a little older than me, who mentors a lot of people. Some he’s worked with, others he’s met socially; more than a few are referrals. He spends a lot of time with them in person and by phone, and I’m always struck by the depth and quality of his conversations. He’s not just providing advice or direction; he’s teaching them. Whether it is how to navigate a city bureaucracy, who to engage on a political issue, or career management, he puts the same level of commitment and dedication in. What is obvious to me is that these individuals – who work for large organizations, great companies, and name-brand universities – are not getting this education anywhere else.
My best bosses have always been those that have taught me what isn’t in the book or the manual. One of my best friends and my former troop commander in the Army taught me the Army Maintenance Management System when I was a troop executive officer. I learned vehicle and equipment maintenance up to depot level and soon was helping my Regimental S-3 with his maintenance report. When I worked as an agency recruiting manager I had another boss, my CEO at the time, call me on Saturday mornings during a brutal recession to check in with me and discuss business challenges I was facing; he didn’t call me during the week out of respect for my time at work, but made sure to check in and cover things with me I might not have seen in the daily grind. Another manager of mine would call me late in the afternoon and put me in “what-if” situations to get me to think. What would you need to do if you opened a new recruiting division? What would you do if your top biller left the company tomorrow? What if you were put in charge today? Teaching was and is a huge part of their management style, and the investment they put into me translated into loyalty and hard work for their organizations.
As leaders it is easy to fall into a groove of managing the day to day aspects of our people, but how many of us take the time to teach, mentor, and grow those we lead? Are you making the time to teach your people, singly or in groups, the things that you learned the hard way and that they won’t learn from anyone else? You don’t need to discuss the socio-economic impact of the Black Plague or how to program C# – focus on something that you think you can pass on that would save your employees some time and headaches later. All great organizational cultures have teaching at their heart – it is an obligation for great leaders, and an expectation of great employees. Are you teaching enough?