Leading Blog






01.24.20

Teaching By Heart: A Guide For Great Leadership

Teaching By Heart

DESPITE what the title Teaching By Heart might imply, it is really a book about servant leadership. It is a journey into self-awareness so that you can serve those you lead or seek to influence in spite of your self-doubt, anxieties, and insecurities. It is a remarkable book and a perfect means to refocus your leadership development this year.

Professor of management and organizational behavior at Harvard University, Thomas DeLong, writes, “I’ve found that the best teachers are also leaders, and the best leaders are also teachers.” I completely agree, and it is easy to see the parallels.

Using himself as a case study, DeLong generously shares what goes on in his head and heart as a teacher. He shares what he has observed how in a teacher’s “best moments, they can life people up, and in their worst, let them down.”

You will learn what it takes to teach and lead better. You will gain a better understanding of yourself. Through his introspection, you will come away with a better grasp of your own patterns of behavior. You will understand the need to ask yourself: “What is it that I do consistently that assists me living and teaching, that leverages my talents in unique ways? Just as important, you need to understand those emotional or behavioral patterns that sabotage your efforts to make a difference.”

As teachers [and leaders], we focus more on our inadequacies and failures than on our strengths and accomplishments. I’ll deconstruct why this is so. I will walk you through the heaven and hell of teaching by dissecting and analyzing what I’ve experienced in the Harvard Business School classroom.

After thirty-five years of teaching, DeLong still has anxiety about teaching. To counteract the doubt and anxiety on the days he teaches he must get into the classroom early. “Rather than listen to irrational thoughts and feelings, I need to engage with the ‘enemy.’ I need to look students in the eyes and engage. I need to get out of my head and be interested in something other than my thoughts and feelings and insecurities. The pattern that surfaces is he either/or syndrome. Will I leave the classroom with a feeling of either success or failure? So even if you aren’t a teacher who is wrapped up in your own doubt and insecurities, you should know what your patterns are—the tendencies and habits that either serve or disrupt your effectiveness.”

“As the instructor, you need to increase the probability that your students will see and experience and feel what you want them to experience.” This doesn’t just happen. This is a challenge for teachers and leaders.

Self-Awareness and Growth

This self-awareness is a negative and a positive—a negative because it caused me to beat myself up continuously over my real and imagined shortcomings, a positive because it helped me become cognizant of my patterns.

By remonstrating with myself over my actions, I hope I decrease the chances that I’ll repeat this bad behavior. I still might. But I trust that I will do it less.

On Knowing Students

I am freer as a teacher if I feel I know the students on some level, better able to adjust and adapt o their requirements. My hope is to turn their mindset from one of certainty to curiosity where their assumptions can be tested, confirmed, or revealed to be false.”

The Power of Covenant versus Contractual Relationships

As leaders, we create a covenant with those we lead. A covenant is a good way to think about a leader’s relationship with others. Three elements make up the covenant leaders make with their people.I promise to set direction with you, to secure your commitment, and help you execute. If I do these things, you’ll succeed and so will the company. This is the covenant leaders establish with their employees, and it drives performance far better than salary and perks.”

Teachers create this covenant with students in much the same way leaders do with employees.

First, students must know that they are in safe, competent, understanding hands. The first dimension is built on faith.

Second, students need to know that teachers care about them and their work. They learn this through feedback, interactions in the classroom, and observing them interact with their peers.

Third, students must feel like they are learning and growing and developing. They need to know that they are being stretched and pushed and challenged with new knowledge, that their assumptions are being tested, and they must gain new knowledge about themselves.

Contractual relationships are transactional. It’s all cognitive. “Contractual leaders and teachers worry about their image, how they are perceived by their boss—a manager or department head. They possess little empathy for others because their goal is to survive where they perceive themselves to be unwelcome.”

Reflections

The ideas expressed here are valuable to leaders in many roles—parents, teachers, pastors.

One of my goals for the students is to have them stand back and face their own life path. An underlying assumption is that the students will do less harm if they are aware of why they do what they do. They will hurt themselves and others less if they understand the purpose and path they are on. I don’t pretend that they should have an answer, but I would like them to be asking questions about their journey before, during, and after the experience at HBS.

As I gaze out the window and reflect, I question whether I’m helping students become more adaptive. Will they make it through their next crucible with greater resilience? Can they maintain a clear head in times of crisis? Do they become paralyzed with fear? Do they wait for someone else to save the day? Are they unable to be the people they were before they experienced the hardship? I want them to be able to keep tough feedback in perspective. I want them to be able to be direct when a tough conversation is necessary?

We need to have “road miles” so that we, through the process of elimination, understand the intersection between our values, motivations, and needs.

I try to highlight that we need not only to focus on the integration of work and play, of home and work but to be more aware of the quality of life we create with those who are near and dear to us.

Avoid Focusing on the Negative

If we use external criteria to define success or happiness, we will come up short, given the powerful influence of our negative-remembering reflex. Everything gets distilled and reduced to one reflection or observation. The technical term for this cognitive process is asymmetric effect with a negative bias. It holds us captive in everyday life.

I find myself returning to the internal dialogue that reminds me of my negative or self-doubting narrative than my self-affirming story. I find that my negative voices are louder than my positive ones, and so I lose confidence and my classroom persona is diminished—I am unwilling to push myself as a teacher, failing to try something new or push boundaries, since these classroom behaviors all carry risks.

The goal, then, is to remind ourselves that we possess a positive story, not just a negative one.

Three Guiding Questions

DeLong offers three guiding questions that will help guide our efforts to be authentic and genuine:

1. How do I experience others? What do we believe about others? The answer will inform how we interact with others.

2. How do others experience me? How do I portray myself to others?

3. How do others experience themselves when they are in your presence?

Teaching By Heart is a very relatable book that all leaders should read. Leadership comes in many forms, but we all deal with the same issues. DeLong’s journey will help.

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