Archive for August 2015
I believe that good leaders have to be teachable. In fact, I believe that before you can teach and lead others, you have to be teachable and learning. What about you – what do you think? Are you teachable, and how does that affect your leadership? Share your thoughts in the comment box below.
Before you can teach and lead others, you have to live it. But in order to live it, you first have to know it. I experienced this (or better put, failed at this) in my first experience as the senior leader in an organization. To be honest, as I walked in the door I was questioning my own preparedness, unsure of whether I knew enough to be able to lead well. But I had been given the opportunity, so I quelled my fears and jumped.
I arrived at a school that had longstanding, competent employees, and my relative youth probably didn’t help my reception. Then, in my enthusiasm, I started to run without first taking the time to learn. I began making changes (some of them drastic) and implementing new policies and procedures, but failed to take the time to study the history, culture, and people involved. As a result, my actions stemmed from ignorance and arrogance rather than knowledge, and the result was conflict and disruption. It wasn’t until I took the time to learn, developing the necessary understanding of the relevant information, that my actions of leadership could represent the right knowledge and therefore win followers and become effective.
But for Christian leaders, this truth goes much deeper: to be effective in your actions of leadership, you must first and foremost have a personal and in-depth knowledge of God and His Word. Your knowledge of His truth is more important than anything else in your preparation. Ezra, as a leader, provides a great example of this. In the description of his preparation for leadership – and more pointedly, his preparation for a specific task – Ezra 7:10 states, “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel.” Clearly he had prepared himself for what he was about to undertake, but notice the order of the steps, because the order is important! The first step in the process was “to seek the law of the Lord,” which led him to living out what he knew, and which in turn enabled him to teach and to lead. People followed him because his life gave him the credibility to lead, but first having the knowledge gave him the capability to lead.
What does it mean, then, that he had sought the law of the Lord? It means that he had spent time with God. He had studied the Scriptures intensely and diligently, learning who God is and what He says. And that took time and intentional practice. At the core, this is a basic and fundamental part of the Christian walk, and so it shows up nearly everywhere that someone talks about steps of spiritual growth. Gordon MacDonald, in Ordering Your Private World, discusses the importance of first having the private world of the inner man in order, and says that this must come from developing intimacy with God through regular time with Him and in His Word. Tim Challies, in The Discipline of Spiritual Discernment, explains that the ability to discern is directly related to knowledge of God and of His Word. J. P. Moreland, in Love Your God with All Your Mind, communicates that faith is also an act of reason, based on truth – specifically the truth of Scripture – and therefore Scripture must be studied for faith to grow. Kevin DeYoung, in Taking God at His Word, explores the doctrine of Scripture, and in the process argues for the importance and necessity of reading and studying the Bible. And the list could go on and on. The clear understanding is that every Christian (not only leaders) needs to regularly spend time with God, studying Scripture and building that personal relationship.
Scripture itself supports this truth, as is seen in the examples of men and women of God (like Ezra), but as is also specifically stated in various passages. Psalm 1 describes the person who will be blessed because of his moral choices, and states in verse 2 that this is someone “whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.” In the book of Joshua, chapter 1,verse 8, as Joshua is preparing to lead the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God challenges and encourages him with this statement: “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” The bottom line is, our thought processes, choices, and outcomes are directly impacted by our time spent in the Word of God.
As a crucial byproduct of studying Scripture, Ezra developed an intimate, personal relationship with God. Because of that personal and deep relationship, he didn’t simply learn to know who God was and is; he also came to understand God’s nature and heart. He had developed a relationship that enabled him to trust in God even in uncertainty and difficulty. It was from this relationship that he was therefore able to move and act with confidence in God’s sovereign plan, and that he was able to see God’s hand and His purpose in the events that occurred.
This is a critical lesson for you and me. It’s been said that leaders must be learners; but Christian leaders must also be learners of God’s Word. Therefore, in our leadership development, we absolutely must study Scripture, growing in intimacy with God. We need regular time with God, in prayer and in His Word. This must be central and foundational to what we do, how we live, and to our call or purpose from Him. Doing this first is what makes us knowledgeable and gives us the capability to lead, because we will learn to see people and circumstances from God’s perspective, shaping how we think and act. It is from this growth of knowledge and relationship with God that we are able to “walk the talk,” modeling and practicing what we know, and living authentic, genuine lives that inspire trust and result in effective leadership.
“While teachers play an invaluable role in the development of children, we are mistaken if we think that it is a job that is only relegated to someone in a classroom. The reality is that if you lead people you are a teacher.”
Dr. Jeffrey S. McMaster, Be A Teacher
When we think about teaching, our minds generally go immediately to the role of a classroom teacher in a school. We tend to think of it as an occupation, rather than a way to communicate; as a job that someone does as opposed to how you interact with others in a way that helps them to learn something. However, while teachers play an invaluable role in the development of children, we are mistaken if we think that it is a job that is only relegated to someone in a classroom. The reality is that if you lead people you are a teacher.
I personally have experience in the professional role of educator, having served as a junior high and high school teacher for a number of years, and having spent more than two decades in a school environment as both teacher and administrator. I had subject matter that I was responsible to teach, and my job was to help students learn necessary and relevant information, and to develop critical thinking skills. But it also was a vehicle through which I sought to shape the minds and the lives of my students.
Leaders are also seeking to shape the minds and lives of those they lead, and so effective leadership can and should learn some things from the theory and practice of professional educators. Therefore there is great value in understanding what teaching looks like and how it has an effect on people. Gaining an understanding of this can help us with a framework for how we also can teach others. If we want to become better teachers (and we all should), then we need to look at the learning process and at teachers.
In the book Blended (2015), authors Michael B. Horn and Heather Staker discuss the concept of disruptive innovation and its application to the world of education, especially as it applies to online instruction and blended learning. They make the point that today’s schools were originally designed to standardize teaching and testing (the opposite of differentiation and customization), but in today’s global, information-based culture, the new need is for student-centered learning, which is personalized (tailored to an individual student’s particular need) and competency-based (they must demonstrate mastery before moving on). As they researched students in the learning environment, they then sought to identify the primary motivators for student learning, and found two motivating desires: 1) to feel successful and make progress, and 2) to have fun with friends, engaging in positive, rewarding social experiences with others. In short, they learned that students – the learners – want to successfully achieve, experience good social relationships, and receive individualized instruction whereby they can show what they know in the way they do best.
So research gives us some insight into what learners in general want to experience, but what about your own experience? Like most people, you can probably think of teachers who made an impact on your life, so we should be asking ourselves what they did that makes them stand out to us. When you do that, you will probably find several core practices or behaviors that characterized those impactful teachers: 1) they cared; and specifically, they cared about you, and you knew it, 2) they were examples that you felt you could emulate, because they were models of how to live life effectively and with meaning, 3) they challenged and inspired you, pushing you to do more than you thought you were capable of doing, and 4) they gave you feedback, both positive and negative, to support, encourage, and grow you, but also to hold you accountable and correct you.
Now put these ideas together, those from research and those from your own personal experience, and it will begin to give you a picture of what it means to be a teacher. If you apply this to the people you lead, it will help you to see that they want to progress and achieve, they want to have positive and caring relationships, they want to do what they do well in the way they can do it best, they want someone to show them the way and challenge them to grow, and they want to know how they are doing. And you don’t have to be in a classroom to do all of these things.
This provides us with a blueprint, a road map for how we can teach the people we lead, and there are four foundational pillars that make up this plan:
- First, teach with your heart, developing a genuine care for people. Build relationship by taking a personal interest in their lives and showing that you care about them.
- Second, teach with your words. Take the time to explain why and how, helping people to understand what it is that they are doing and how it connects to the other people and tasks around them in the organization.
- Third, teach with your life, by living in way that is consistent with what you say, demonstrating integrity, and keeping your promises. Be an example they can emulate. Show them what you expect by demonstrating and modeling.
- Finally, teach with your responses. Empower them to act, and then give them support and encouragement, but also give them constructive feedback to help them learn and improve.
In essence, to be an effective teacher, you must care, tell, show, and respond. These are all behaviors that can and should characterize you as an effective leader. Perhaps you have already been doing this and didn’t realize that in doing so, you have been a teacher. Perhaps you need to begin to do them. Regardless, remember that good teachers help students to achieve, even beyond what they believed was possible, and so it makes sense that if you can be a leader who teaches, the people you lead will grow and you will benefit. Be a teacher.
In much the same way that it has been said, “we are what we eat,” it is also true that “we do what we think.” Therefore, according to the authors of Influencer, if you want to change the way people act, you first have to change the way that they think. How have you, or how do you change the way people act by changing the way that they think? Please share in the comment box below.