How Teaching Has Made Me A Better Business Leader

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One year ago, I accepted Steve Wehrenberg’s offer to adjunct teach at the University of Minnesota in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Yesterday, I watched as my students gave their final presentations to wrap up my second semester. #timeflies

As I reflect on my first year of teaching, I’ve come to the realization that it’s made me a better business leader. It’s impacted not just how I take on different tasks, but also how I learn and how I think. It’s been humbling and uplifting. 

To give you a better idea of what I mean by this, I’ve offered up a few ways I believe you can bring teaching into your company to make you a better business leader.

Organize Your Experience Into A Syllabus

When Steve first approached me about teaching, I was apprehensive. His response was simple. He said, “Don’t worry about it. The best adjuncts teach what they know in a way that inspires students to think differently.” 

I’d argue all great business leaders have at least an entire syllabus of content they could create. Now, it’s just a matter of finding the best outlet to share what you know. The good news is that there are more opportunities to teach than ever before, as evidenced by platforms such as Skillshare.

Admit What You Don’t Know

While I teach a digital marketing course at the University of Minnesota, I also believe it’s important for students to take a step back and start with the why behind a brand, it’s business objectives and so on. Then, we get into the role digital plays in helping a brand get there. Depending on what we’re covering throughout the semester, my knowledge and experience varies. So, for topics such as modern PR, creative sketching and digital media, I bring in guest speakers to teach these areas and get out of the way of their expertise and experience.

Businesses should be doing the same. While there’s a sense of humility that comes with admitting what you don’t know, an open-minded approach not only expands your knowledge base, it also creates the conditions for collaboration, agility, speed and quality. I’ve yet to find a company that does not put a significant amount of value in these traits.

Be A Guide, Not A Director

What I like most about Seth Godin is that he never gives you the answer. Rather, he captures your attention by being provocative, offers a starting point for how you can get started making a difference and tells the stories of people or businesses doing things he believes in.

Sharing what you know isn’t telling people what to do. When done great, it’s quite the opposite. In my opinion, the knowledge you share has to be enough for people to grasp the concept while inspiring the confidence to solve the problem on their own. Finding this sweet spot will not only inspire your team to get started, but also get them to the answer faster.

Let Your Students Teach You

Nearly every marketer I talk to is trying to figure out “how to engage millennials.” Yet, they are so far removed from the millennial worldview they struggle to be relevant. Sure, there are procedural ways to gain empathy (see: market research), but I have learned more about millennials in the past year than I had in the previous five years. I’ve learned about what they find interesting, how they like to work, the types of problems they like to solve and which brands and products they love. These insights are invaluable to me, not only as a marketer - but also as the leader of a team that includes people in the earlier stages of their career. My advice: let the people you work with teach you as much as you teach them.