Great Leaders are Great Teachers

Louie @ 12 weeks. Who's a pretty boy?

I’m in the thick of training our new puppy, Louie. At almost 3 months old, he looks cute and is really smart. He will eventually turn into a big dog, so a few fundamentals need to be welded into place. Firstly, a dog has to learn to walk on the lead without dragging you along; the owner walks the dog, not visa versa (assuming that you don’t want to end up with arms like Magilla Gorilla). Secondly, the dog has to understand basic commands (Sit, Stay and Down) so that you can maintain control when he’s off the lead. There is more advanced obedience stuff and all sorts of agility work – but that’s typically beyond what the ‘normal’ dog owner wants.

Who’s Your Daddy! Because dogs are pack animals, they look for a leader and you need to assert yourself into this role. One lady I know got a puppy, on loan, from the Guide Dogs for the Blind. She wanted to test drive owning a dog to see how the kids reacted. They couldn’t manage him. She described the return trip to the Marine Hotel in Sutton, with the dog sitting on her lap trying to eat the steering wheel as she drove along the Coast Road! So, a dog has to know that you are the boss. It’s the doggie equivalent of Steve Staunton famously telling the Irish soccer team “I’m the gaffer” (Note to Steve: If you have to tell them, you’re not!).

Training Rules: In simple terms, the 3 rules of dog instruction are as follows: Digestible Chunks: Positive Reinforcement: Endless Patience. Now, if you don’t find the metaphor too offensive, it turns out that those rules work quite well for training people too. But, much more importantly than any particular ‘technique’, is the core idea that teaching is a central leadership activity. Why? Because it contains two divine ideas in a single behaviour. It helps to ‘re-skill’ the next generation of managers (Newsflash: you may be training the CEO of NAMA circa 2020). Secondly, it signals a real commitment to helping people to grow professionally. Not just talking about this, but putting your diary (time) where your mouth is.

Success Secrets: Over the past 20 years or so, I’ve asked countless executives about the ‘secret’ of their success. It’s amazing how many highlight the importance of a particular teacher or mentor in their rise to glory and how much they appreciated this (then and now). Yet some senior executives think that teaching is ‘below their pay grade’ – to be delegated to the HR function or outsourced. At best they might cover the cost of this (the ‘cheque-book’ school of management). But they would never dirty their hands with this low-level activity. It’s a mistake.

Blackjack and Craps: Great teaching is a thing of beauty. And it doesn’t have to be boring. On the face of it, teaching your kids to gamble might not seem like a great idea. But if you want your kids to study math’s and work hard at it, then this is a brilliant way to introduce probability theory. Kids (and adults) want to learn useful skills and are engaged when they can see how to apply this. I spend all of my working life coaching and problem-solving organization issues with executives. It’s a hugely positive activity (I haven’t got the skills to work effectively with kids; like the old joke: “I wanted to be a doctor, but I didn’t have the patience”).

Sustainable Leadership: My overall sense is that leadership, like green energy, should be a sustainable concept. It’s not just what you achieve while you are ‘in the chair’, but what you leave in place when you’ve departed. And training the next generation of managers/leaders is a powerful legacy, even if it seems a bit ‘wussy’ to those who believe that powerful leaders come straight from central casting in Hollywood i.e. the “Follow me, I always know what I am doing” types.

Leading by Teaching: In your effort to become the world’s foremost executive (that’s a good thing), you need to maintain your humanity. The Queen supposedly thought that every factory smelled of paint (not realizing that every factory was painted just before her arrival). In similar vein, many leaders get disconnected with reality. Getting down and dirty with your team (by teaching them) or muddling through stuff together (showing your own vulnerability), is one of the hallmarks of a leader with great connect skills.
In the meantime, if you see someone in Clontarf with a pocket bulging with dog biscuits shouting ‘Good Boy, Come’ in a falsetto voice don’t be alarmed. It’s only me teaching Louie new tricks. And from time to time, we all need a few of those!

Paul Mooney

PS: Had a great response to the blog last week on Whistleblowers. For anyone interested in his topic, take a quick look at this very clever site/service developed by an Irish consulting group.

Non PC joke of the Week (immediately look away if you are the sensitive type). This one might work best for those who have been to the Far East…

Just back from a holiday in Thailand where I became good friends with a Ladyboy. He looked like a lady, talked like a lady, even danced like a lady. Everything was going perfectly until… he took me home and reversed the car into the garage first time. l thought to myself: “Now, hold on a minute here…”

Know someone who’d benefit from reading this blog? Forward it on or ask them to contact me and we’ll add them to the mailing list.


About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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