I was 16, and working in a gas station. A customer had come in to get his flat tire fixed. It was a busy day, and my boss was busy handling other customers, so he told me to fix the tire.
The trouble was, I had very little experience doing that, and I especially feared the machine that took the tire off the rim – I had merely one chance to watch someone do it a week or two before.
I tried to ask for a bit of help before I started, but instead, I got that response – “just get it done“.
So I took the tire and went to the machine, unsure of myself. And oh yes, it was a beautiful chrome rim too.
The air was taken out, and then I tried to get the tire off the rim. I didn’t get the device set up properly, so instead of pushing down on the tire, the machine pushed down on the rim, bending it quite grotesquely.
It was quite an embarrassing moment for me, and little did I know it would bring me a leadership lesson I would never forget: the importance of leaders as teachers, instead of tellers
Because, after all, the very definition of “lead” begins with “show the way“.
It can be time consuming. It can be frustrating. It’s a lot harder than just barking out the orders and hoping they’ll be followed.
But teaching must be done.
And through the years I’ve discovered 5 keys to being an effective teacher in the workplace:
1) Repetition – Anyone who’s worked for me knows “Terry’s Rule” – if you want someone to really remember something, you have to say it 15 times. It may seem weird to sound like a broken record all the time, but it really does work.
2) Consistency – Or better said, No hypocrisy! Saying one thing and doing another is a horrible way to teach. Or, for example, saying to your staff that quality and service are THE most important things, and then the next day saying getting it done as fast as possible is the most important.
3) Plain English – The less your staff reach for the dictionary, the better. I used to tell my managers that we weren’t paid by the word.
4) Common Sense – This comes into play in a couple of important ways - by thinking before we speak, and by simply having an awareness of when you really, really need to teach to keep a bad outcome from happening (like my boss in that garage that day).
5) “Hands On” is Better - The benefits of rolling up the sleeves and showing how it’s done goes well beyond just the teaching value – it’s a fabulous team builder too. As they say, “an ounce of demonstration is worth a pound of explanation“.
Yes, all this from a bent chrome rim. Be a teacher – you’ll get better results, and you’ll get a lot out of it yourself. I know I did.
Lead, and teach, well!
(This lesson is also featured in my free e-book, The 5 Lessons You Need To Learn Before You Jump Into The Pool – check it out!)