I mentioned in a recent post that my New Year’s Resolution as an aspiring leader is an increased focus on the topic of service leadership.

I have a long held a private theory that the heart of a teacher is a key supporting component of genuine service leadership.  I recently wrote a post observing the far-reaching effect a service-oriented teacher had on myself and other students. And, professionally, I have been fortunate to work with a number of people who teach or coach outside of work and have observed that these activities have a visible positive carryover into their professional teams.

Yesterday I came across an article from Harvard Business Review which presents a similar perspective. However, the portion I was particularly interested in was the discussion of the impact of teaching on organizational culture. The author, noted leadership author and consultant Sydney Finkelstein, comments:

One big surprise was the extent to which these star managers emphasize ongoing, intensive one-on-one tutoring of their direct reports, either in person or virtually, in the course of daily work. Cognitive psychologists, teachers, and educational consultants have long recognized the value of such personalized instruction: It fosters not just competence or compliance but mastery of skills and independence of thought and action.

Over time, this approach transformed the company into a hothouse of leadership talent, accelerating its growth.

There is some really good stuff to unpack there.  To me, the article flirts with but does not fully engage some intriguing points.

The article offers an experiential glimpse of when, where, and how to teach within the professional workplace. I would add an additional question. Why? How can a seemingly small, often unnoticed teaching-focus make a transformative organizational difference?  Organizational dynamics can be very complex. The author may have been wise not to take this question on in the limited space available. However, there is one obvious observation that does not require us to dive into fifth-order game theory.  Modern organizations live in a world of dynamic change surrounding complex technologies. As Peter Drucker noted, organization survival is not compulsory.  Organizations must adapt or die.  It is imperative that core competencies of organizations must evolve along with the world around them.  But what does that really mean? What are core competencies, really?  Is that not just management-speak for ‘things our company can do well or knows a lot about’?  To my simple way of thinking, talking about evolving core competencies is synonymous with expanding employee skills and knowledge through continuous learning.  And, even though we talk a lot about organizational learning, we are not always good at enabling it.

I really do believe that most organizational recognize the importance of and intend to enable talent development. But, in many cases, what really happens is different.  In real time, management attention goes to other places, supporting the hot activity or putting out the fire of the day.   Employees are told that development is important but are given more tasks than they have hours to do.  Development activities are turned into a disconnected accounting activity conducted by the HR version of bean counters, counted in points or hours without considering how they fit into an overall development plan or how they support specific job tasks.

So, organizational learning is a particular need but also a particular weakness, which makes it a high yield opportunity.  The ‘teaching manager’ turns these trends around providing an outward example that learning and development are important.  By putting their own time and interest into on-the-job teaching, in one stroke the manager reinforces the emphasis on employee development and provides a positive example of how it should be conducted. The propagation of this effect through the organization is an essential first element supporting organizational change.

That is a high level view of understanding why teaching and coaching within organizations is so important.  But there is also plenty more to think about and understand on the topic.  Two key questions I am thinking about this week are 1) what specific effects (both visible and hidden) does service-oriented teaching have on an organization? 2) in what ways does the way modern systems and organization are structured foster (or block) talent development. Feel free to weigh in below and come back for continued discussion!