Intentional Leaders as Teachers

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

"Sure, we've got a leaders-as-teachers program, if you count our CEO getting up and talking to our new hires."

"Sort of. A few leaders weave learning into their formal presentations on business strategy."

These are a few responses to the question, "Do you use a form of leaders as teachers (LAT) in your organization?" They are examples of LAT seeds that have the potential to blossom into a LAT program given proper nurturing from a learning professional. 

A LAT approach, as we define it, is an intentional plan to engage leaders in learning and development programs for the sake of the many benefits that LAT programs can bring. In many organizations, leaders relish the opportunity to share their knowledge, teach by revealing what they have learned through failures and successes, and mentor and coach in the moment. Perhaps you know some of these wonderful leaders. Chances are, they are highly valued and able to achieve high levels of engagement across the organization. 

Just think if you could intentionally multiply the engagement achieved by such leader-teachers. An intentional LAT approach includes identifying business needs, recruiting leaders who are recognized as experts on the topic, and providing support to these leader-teachers from learning professionals and staff who help them design for effective learning and deliver with excellence.

Please don't think that your company or organization is too small to have an intentional LAT approach. LAT programs come in all sizes and varieties. Many are individual learning programs that are strongly connected to a current and urgent business need. Others are programs that address a specific topic, may be offered regularly, and might include a series of sessions designed to meet the learning needs for different groups of people. Very few companies have a LAT mindset that drives them to turn to their leaders first when planning a learning program.


Yet bigger may not be better; it is just bigger. The keys to success with a LAT program are to maximize the benefits from your program, and deliver with excellence. 

Let's talk about the latter first—deliver with excellence: Your LAT approach will grow successfully only to the degree that you can support the leader-teachers. With each win, spread the news of your LAT success. Faster than you might expect, others will want to tap into your approach. But be careful to grow slowly, step by step. Think of yourself as a gardener who wants to maximize the yield from your current garden before expanding into a new section of land.

You might wonder how to achieve the other key—maximize the benefits of the LAT approach for your program. Much of this boils down to intentionality, as well as solid learning and development practices. For example, to ensure that your LAT approach is driving business results, use LAT specifically for issues that are critical to the current business strategy and can be addressed by a learning program. Then set up a post-learning event to capture success stories from learners, maybe via social networking or a collaborative activity.

Here's another example: To stimulate the learning and development of leaders and associates, set up programs with senior leaders who are teaching emerging leaders. Use action learning and sprinkle in a heavy dose of ULPs (unique leadership perspectives), often told as personal stories that are relevant to the topic. 

Finally, a LAT approach directly affects the organization’s bottom line. To reduce costs, use leader-teachers. They can cut learning time by speaking directly to employees and fellow leaders in their language with cases and stories that are relevant to their work, and do so while saving huge consultant fees. Even better, when active learning is used, leader-teachers repeatedly tell us: "I think I learned as much from them as they learned from me. It was worth it!"

Learn more from Leaders as Teachers Action Guide: Proven Approaches for Unlocking Success in Your Organizationavailable for pre-order now.

About the Author

Ed Betof, EdD, is a leader, teacher, coach, mentor, and author. As president of Betof Associates, he does C-level executive and leadership team coaching. He also serves as executive coach for the Center for Creative Leadership and teaches for the Institute for Management Studies. In 2007, Ed retired as worldwide vice president of talent management and CLO at Becton, Dickinson and Company. In addition, he served for eight years as the program director for the Conference Board’s Talent and Organization Development Executive Council, and was a founding senior fellow and an academic director for the doctoral program designed to prepare chief learning officers at the University of Pennsylvania. Ed is the author or co-author of five books, including Leaders as Teachers: Unlock the Teaching Potential of Your Company’s Best and Brightest, Leaders as Teachers Action Guide, and Just Promoted!: A Twelve-Month Roadmap for Success in Your New Leadership Role. He is a frequent speaker on leadership and career topics and a former ATD Board member.

About the Author

Lisa Owens is a learning expert who applies learning sciences to create training programs that move businesses forward. She designs training for the in-person and virtual classrooms and the web. Lisa founded Training Design Strategies LLC in 2012 to help companies achieve their goals through the power of training. Beyond her current client work, she is an instructor for Ohio University’s instructional design graduate program and on GC-ASTD’s Executive Advisory Board. She is co-author of the college textbook Your Career: How to Make It Happen, the books Leaders as Teachers Action Guide and Lo start-up di una Corporate University, and a series of articles for CorpU on creating corporate universities. Lisa holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering and a master’s degree in education.

About the Author

Sue Todd is chief strategy officer at CorpU. She works with faculty at leading business schools, including Wharton, IESE, the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business and others, to adapt executive education programs to the practical needs of leaders. Sue has advised Global 2000 organizations on innovative learning and leadership development strategies since 1994. With more than 20 years experience, she has consulted with firms like Coca-Cola, Aetna, Exxon, The Boeing Company, HP, Pfizer, M&M Mars, and others to address the dynamic conditions of the 21st Century. Her current work focuses on complexity science, and how it reveals cracks in current organizational structures and practices under increasing marketplace dynamism. She is identifying approaches that can prepare leaders to embrace emergence and guide organization adaptability. Prior to joining CorpU, Sue was VP of product management for KnowledgePlanet, where she directed the evolution of the first web-based learning management system, the first business-to-business eLearning marketplace and technology-based performance management solutions. She helped both media and industry analysts shape the LMS and e-learning industries. Sue has been interviewed by  The Wall Street JournalFortune MagazineUSA TodayThe New York TimesGreentree Gazette, Workforce Week, and other HR and learning industry publications. She has published articles in  Leadership Excellence, CLOTraining and  T&D Magazines. Sue has spoken at New York University, Bellvue University, ASTD ICE, Tuskegee University, University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. And for two years, in 2006 and 2007, she ran Training Director’s Forum on behalf of Training Magazine.

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