Education is extremely important for our society. We want to teach our children about the past and present and what the future may hold; we want to teach our children about how the world works; and we want to teach our children how to be socialized into our society well. For the example of children, it is the responsibility of the parents, teachers, and community to raise them up.
As leaders, we’re not all necessarily called, or designed, to teach children, but that does not exempt us from teacher status. We have a responsibility to teach our employees about the past, present, and what the future looks like for your organization. It is the responsibility of the leader to explain the culture and values of the company. Beyond all that, it is the leader’s responsibility to teach their employees how to think.
If you’re scared at the thought of your employees thinking and acting for themselves, you’re probably leading a totalitarian-type of authority structure, where only your ideas matter and the lives of your employee’s are dispensable to you. This blog post is not for you. However, when I think of the people I lead, I don’t want to be the one to make their decisions for them. I strive to be the one who guides them through tough decisions but ultimately leaves the day-to-day and even some of the extremes to them.
There’s the old adage that you’ve probably heard: “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he’ll never go hungry.” This is one of the statements I live by. It’s easier to give the man a fish than it is to teach the man, but the first response (to give) fosters reliance. If you give someone all the answers, they’ll come back to you when they hit a question they can’t answer. I was taught young to teach myself, and that’s the kind of people we want – those who can teach themselves but be unafraid to come forward when they need help.
I showed one of my friends how to play the basics of piano; they sometimes say that I taught them how to play piano, but I really didn’t. Whenever they say that to me, I say, “I didn’t teach you piano. I taught you how to teach yourself.” I gave them the resources they needed to learn, I answered their questions without judgment, and I let them make mistakes with tons of grace.
I encourage you to be this type of teacher. Not the one who simply gives with no explanation. But the one who teaches others to teach themselves. The one who teaches others to feed themselves. To give is charitable and admirable, but beneficial only in the short term; to instruct is beneficial in the long term.