Ten Things We Learned From Our First Leadership Coaches – Our Teachers – Part 1
Leadership Lesson: Hands down, teachers were our very first leadership coaches, pushing us to be curious about the world around us, keeping us accountable to what they knew we could deliver, and trying to make sure the lessons they shared stuck long after the partnership ended.
Recently, I came across a LinkedIn post in which one of my connections, a school teacher, posted pictures of a letter he had received from a former student. In the letter, the student thanked the teacher, sharing that it was the work of and experience with the teacher that set the writer of the letter on the course where they find themselves today, and how that experience was unmatched by subsequent teachers and professors.
How amazing is that?
Rarely do any of us get the chance to make an impact on someone’s life in that manner and to that extent. Even more rare is the opportunity where people get to hear from someone like that, who’s gone down their path and, in hindsight, has learned to appreciate – or had their appreciation heightened for – a previous influencer.
It’s a powerful moment when someone realizes how far they’ve come after having worked with a particular leader or leader figure. That self-awareness and gratitude is what leadership development, appreciation, and acknowledgement are — or should be — all about.
(Note: Just in general, we should all take an opportunity to reach out and thank those who have helped us, built us up, and encouraged us, whether they are a teacher or not. This may sound like common sense, but how often do you thank someone for how they have contributed to who you are overall, and not merely what they might have done for you in a moment or situation?)
It goes without saying that teachers don’t get their due. I would argue they hold one of the most truly influential positions in society, and yet they don’t get the all-out praise they deserve. If they were truly rewarded with what they really deserved, each one would, at the very least, get a parade in their name…on their way to work…every day.
That’s how much they do for us. That’s the true measure of the impact they make on us. That’s how much they contribute to who we are today.
But how many of us really know that? How many of us recognize the extent of the role they played?
We may see them at first glance as people who made sure we got the grades to make it through that level of school. They shared their knowledge, pushed us to learn, took us to task when we deserved it, and helped us reach our goals by putting in the work necessary.
But it goes beyond that. It wasn’t just history, math, or science, or any other subject of various levels that they taught us throughout our formative years. There was a long-lasting effect.
They taught us our first leadership lessons.
They were our first leadership coaches.
No, it wasn’t a formal coaching relationship, but they did enough to guide the conversation around what we can do with the resources we have at our disposal. That’s a example of coaching. It doesn’t have to be labeled and overt. It can be subtle and quiet, merely existing in the example someone sets.
Below is a breakdown of how teachers became our first leadership coaches. The list covers (1) The Foundation Of It All – Curiosity; (2) What We Learn About Ourselves; and (3) What We Learn About Others.
The Foundation Of It All
Teachers were the first to push us to ask questions. They guided us in the process of developing our critical thinking and digging deep to find greater information and meaning in whatever we encountered.
This is the foundation of all leadership coaching. It’s the drive to learn. The drive to want to learn. Without curiosity, nothing in leadership or leadership development can happen or is possible. Curiosity is the end-all, be-all of leadership. There’s no development, growth, or getting better without being curious – about ourselves, our resources, our competition, and the greater world at large.
What We Learn About Ourselves
In this second part, the focus is on what we had the opportunity to build within ourselves as a result of the interactions and experiences with our teachers. These are attributes that sharpen and refine us, allowing (and empowering) us to then engage and interact with others.
Teachers dropped us down a peg when (or if) we needed and deserved it. We saw them more than our parents, so they made sure we stayed as close to a disciplined path as possible. We weren’t all that. We needed — and continue to need — to be called out on our BS when necessary. Without being called out at a younger age, things go to our heads, we become blind to our own self-limiting behaviors, becoming stubborn and stuck in our ways, and our self-inflicted obstacles only extrapolate from there.
Applying this to leadership coaching is an easy one. Without humility as adults, we lose sight of what is important, not seeing what is in front of us that truly requires our attention. As a result, we let our guard down to threats that exist in various forms, both around us because we’re not paying attention and within us as we turn people off to who we are.
Teachers had to work with class upon class throughout the day, easily working with close to 100 students or so a day, depending on the school and the teacher’s responsibilities within the school. Thinking of all those different personalities and temperaments, we should to recognize the power of patience a person must have to work with so many, dealing with each while being easily outnumbered overall.
With regard to leadership, the more we can navigate through the waters of personalities, tempers, and working styles, the easier our work can become. There’s no leadership today without having the patience to understand what it is different people want and working our way through the emotion it sometimes leads to.
This is an obvious one. Teachers kept us in check and made sure we turned in our work on time — and at an acceptable standard of quality at that! Generally, teachers and parents played two generally similar but specifically different roles when it comes to accountability. Our parents kept us accountable with regard to ourselves and family commitments. Our teachers kept us accountable with regard to the work we had to deliver and share with others, in order to advance down our educational path, preparing us for a lifetime of work with, and for, others.
Leadership for ourselves and with others cannot be successful without maintaining a certain level of quality. The job of a leader is to find that level of quality that is possible from the group that he or she leads, or within which he or she works, and maintaining and reinforcing it while building and developing off of it.
Although teachers taught through textbooks (I am now showing how old I am), the best teachers taught through examples, relating the material to stories they’d either witnessed or lived themselves. Storytelling can bring lessons to life.
Leadership as we know it works best when its own lessons are crafted into a story. The stories capture the purpose, vision, drive, and feel for what needs to get done, and for what people can get behind. People want to know what came before, and what the plan is for after, the here-and-now. One can’t be 100% effective in the moment without keeping the lessons of the past and the impending experiences of the future in mind.