Friday 26 February 2016

What Your Favourite Teacher Knew About Change

Mr. Green
My favourite teacher is Mr. Green. He was my grade 10 home room and geography teacher. After all these years, I still think about him and the positive influence he had on me.

Mr. Green was the first non-family member who said he believed in me. He praised my strengths and coached me on my weaknesses. He also listened to my views and discussed them with me as an equal. At the end of the year, he said "Phil, you are going to do great things in your life. I know it." I beamed and strove to prove him right.

Most people have a favourite teacher. That is why "Who is your favourite teacher?" is often an online security question; it's a name you don't forget. 

My Grade 10 Self
The reasons why you chose that teacher are also easy to recall. When I interviewed candidates for leadership roles, I would ask them about their favourite teacher and what they taught them about managing people. My hypothesis was that people aspire to be like their heroes, which I tested with my next question: "Give me an example of how you have demonstrated that behaviour with someone you managed?"

Most people would physically alter when they talked about their favourite teacher. Their faces would flush, eyes would glisten, or posture would lean forward. It was personal. 

Excellent teachers have a lot in common with excellent change leaders. They both help their charges be the best they can be by creating environments where they can flourish. Here are some common attributes of favourite teachers that can help your team members navigate change:

Be personally invested: Commit to making people the best they can be by observing their behaviour, assessing their strengths and weaknesses, providing immediate feedback and encouraging further development.

Be clear on expectations: Set the bar for performance that is a stretch yet achievable, given a person's capabilities.

Build confidence: Heighten self-belief by encouraging positive mindsets (openness, solution-focus, abundance) and discouraging negative ones ('not invented here,' crisis-focus, scarcity).

Show empathy: Acknowledge where people are before helping them to move forward; validating where people are opens a window to where they could be.

Lead by example: Demonstrate new skills and tasks before asking people to perform them. 

Test people's thinking: Inquire about reasons for beliefs and justifications behind recommendations, and test them with facts.

Lighten stressful situations: Help people focus on their performance by putting things in perspective and managing distractions like rumours or speculation. Humour often helps.

Treat people like adults: Listen, reflect, discuss and debate ideas and viewpoints as an equal (rather than as a 'superior').

Encourage participation: Ask people to join working teams, committees and review panels. Building the future also builds ownership, capabilities and pride.

Hold people accountable: Performing poorly isn't okay. Acknowledge the miss, provide feedback and ask the person to create a plan to improve results.

Reward progress: Recognize and acknowledge progress made and encourage continued wins.

Help people feel important: Communicate how a person's contributions are important and meaningful to you and your organization.

Excellent teachers and change leaders have a lot in common. They create an environment in which people feel energized, valuable and successful, especially in challenging times. Remembering what we valued about our favourite teacher can help us become more valuable change leaders. In times of change, people are in greatest need of a manager's support. Giving it like your favourite teacher would have might even get you praise when your team members are asked "Who was your favourite boss?"


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