SVP of Business Development at Ask.com says effective teaching not only transfers knowledge, but it also boosts the learners’ self-confidence while eliminating their fears.
The first time I had a serious conversation about leadership was when I was a Junior Attorney at a French law firm assigned to the top law firm in Estonia. Even though I had less than three years of experience, a lot of my Estonian colleagues were even younger than me, or were older but looked up to me because I was from the “West.” Over a Saku, a really good Estonian beer, with my friend Jason Grenfell-Gardner, a Junior Associate also from the “West” in an investment bank (now Chief Executive Officer of IGI Laboratories, a public pharmaceutical company), we chatted about our experiences. We realized that we were all of a sudden in a position of leadership, and thus had to think about how to be good leaders.
We realized we were de facto leaders because we were showing our colleagues how to do things. In my case, it was technical things like how to create a due diligence list, what to put in a data room, how to run due diligence interviews with an acquisition target, and how issues found have to be addressed in contract representations and warranties. It was also soft skills, including how to address clients and partners in writing, how to conduct productive meetings, and how to speak “globe-ish” in a cross-border transaction so that all parties could understand and be on the same page.
From then on, I decided that every interaction I would have with a colleague, whether within or outside of my team, would be an opportunity to teach something, anything: technical points of law or drafting, negotiation tactics, processes for decision-making, presentation and communication skills, how to work cross-functionally to carry a project through, management of personnel issues, career planning, etc.
Between Advice & Expertise
Leading is not about having the know-how. That is what experts do. Leaders share know-how, and make sure it is fully assimilated so it can be replicated or even improved. I made sure that these junior colleagues could run a merger and acquisition deal on their own by the time I left Estonia. And they did!
Leading by teaching goes beyond advice and showing the way, it’s also about removing fear of failure and nurturing self-confidence to foster initiative. Allowing others to make mistakes and learn from them is crucial, as failure is one of best ways to acquire experience in any given field. So instead of teaching via micromanaging, a better form of knowledge transfer encompasses:
- Placing team members in a role that corresponds to their strengths;
- Making sure they are clear about overall goals;
- Removing obstacles and empowering decision-making;
- Being available at any time as a sounding board for guidance; and
- Giving feedback about performance, in the most direct and straightforward way. This enables personal development of everyone and builds strong organizations.
You can only learn from a person who you trust. So a leader must make sure to never lose trust or credibility. If you want others to learn from you, you have to practice what you preach, never promise something you can’t deliver, never back-pedal on your word, and be forthcoming about communicating the good and the bad.
I expect these teachings from the leaders of my company, including my peers on the executive team. The leaders I most admire are the ones from whom I have learned the most. They exercised leadership by instilling in me how to lead in more ways than teaching—for example, by picking my battles or being a better advocate of the company’s strategy, whether or not I was personally fully on board. Thanks to their good teachings, I am now a more complete executive.
Carrie Radovich, an executive coach consulting for one of my business development team members, once told us there are leaders who cast shadows and others who cast light. For me, the purest light comes in the form of knowledge that enables others to thrive and grow.
Eve Chaurand is Senior Vice President of Business Development at Ask.com. She was featured in Issue No. 7 of Forefront.