Teaching: An Essential Pillar of Holistic Leadership
If you haven’t already, be sure to download the third edition of my e-book Becoming a Holistic Leader: Strategies for Successful Leadership using a Principle-Based Approach. This post looks at Teaching as one of the four components of Holistic Leadership.
A lot has been written on the need for leaders to be coaches and mentors. This is
important to their effectiveness when it comes to leading others through turbulent change and in supporting their personal growth and development. However, Teaching as part of Holistic Leadership is broader, encompassing the learning-organization concept. Indeed,
some experts have used the expression The Teaching Organization in place of the
Teaching in the 21st Century becomes the responsibility of everyone in the
organization. It begins from within the individual. This is the quest for personal
mastery: to continually strive to improve oneself, and in turn to share with others.
In essence, we become stewards for teaching, because it’s seen in the
organization as highly valued and necessary to its long-term success.
Teaching, as a Holistic Leader, comprises five enabling elements:
- Reflection & Inquiry
- Personal Mastery
To be a teacher means being open, both to self-discovery and to the views and
feedback from others. Reflection and inquiry are critical if this is to occur, for
without them we’re not able to slow ourselves down to explore new
meanings and possibilities. Teaching is fundamental to effective formal and informal leadership.
Openness is vital to our ability to be creative and innovative. If we’re closed to
ideas and suggestions from others, how will we ever take the chance to try
something different or new? In a turbulent global economy and fast-paced societal change, where work is being distributed around the world and as organizations look over their shoulders at new competitors, each of us needs to be open to new possibilities.
The days of hoarding information and protecting one’s organizational turf are long
gone. Those who try to cling to these practices won’t last long in a globalized
world. This is where Sharing comes into play. Generation Y, in contrast to Gen X
and especially Baby Boomers, is much more adept at sharing information and
ideas. We Boomers could learn from those much younger than us.
We live on a shrinking planet, not just in terms of the impact of communications
technology but more importantly in how we interact with Mother Earth.
Stewardship is becoming an increasingly important enabling element of Teaching
as pressures on our planet grow. Again, Gen Y has something to teach us. This
generation (born between 1980 and 1995) has a strong sense of both social and
Each of us is never “there.” Regardless of one’s occupation or work passion, there
is always something new to learn or a way to improve our skills, behavior or how
we interact with others. Personal Mastery is so important to who we are as
human beings. If you take the view that every day brings new learning,
possibilities and opportunities, then it’s hard not to jump out of bed every
morning, eager to tackle challenges.
When I talk about Teaching one particular person comes to mind: my Jazz piano
teacher, Brian Browne. A master Jazz interpreter and creator of original music
(with over a dozen CDs), Brian has played professionally for almost six decades.
Yet he’s continually exploring new possibilities, experimenting with voicings,
chords and structures – all of this while fighting cancer during the past few years. I
never know what I’m going to learn during a class. It just happens naturally.
Brian’s unique teaching style, combined with his own passion for continually
learning and improving his mastery of Jazz piano, has embedded in me that none
of us are ever “there.” We’re always interpreting, regardless of context. (Photo: master jazz pianist Herbie Hancock.)
Let’s look at one incredible leader who’s been an inspiration to many and
who exemplifies the Teaching component of Holistic Leadership.
Julie Payette was strong in maths and sciences as a student growing up in
Montreal. But she also loved to sing, and along the way she learned additional
languages to her fluent French and English: Russian, German, Spanish and Italian.
That wasn’t enough for this strong achiever. She later performed with the
Montreal Philharmonic Orchestra and earned her commercial pilot’s license. Her
biggest accomplishment, however, was becoming the second Canadian woman to
fly in space aboard the Space Shuttle.
Payette’s hard work to become an electrical and computer engineer and then
gaining experience in a variety of locations (e.g., IBM research lab in Zurich)
helped position her for entry in 1992 to become an astronaut. She was selected
with three other people from a field of 5,330 applicants. Payette first flew on the
Space Shuttle Discovery in 1999, and was the first Canadian astronaut to visit the
Space Station and to operate the robotic Canadarm. She served as the Chief
Astronaut with the Canadian Space Agency from 2000 to 2007.
In July 2009, Payette served for two weeks as the flight engineer on the Space
Shuttle Endeavour for the STS-127, ISS Assembly Mission to the International
Space Station. She then worked in Houston as a CAPCOM (Spacecraft
Communicator) for NASA’s Mission Control Center. And in 2013, she was named
Chief Operating Officer
Outside of her work as an astronaut, Payette participates in a motivational
program that encourages learning inside and outside of the classroom. She speaks
to school children and the public across Canada on a regular basis, with the goal of
fostering their own growth as human beings. She acknowledges that it can be
challenging trying to convey her message when people look at her with awe. But
as she puts it: “The impression is that we’re perfect and we’re robots, but that’s
not the case. We’re just people who have the skills and personality to do this job
well. Human beings are human beings.”
One vital message she stresses is that while academics is important to personal
growth, so too is gaining a variety of experiences that promote creativity and
imagination. In fact, she likes to tell the story that when she was going through
the selection process, she explained to the panel that her choral singing would
help make her an excellent astronaut because it made her a more rounded
Reflection Question: As a leader, how do you perceive your abilities as a
Teacher; where are you strong and where do you need to improve?
I’m always thinking about creating. My future starts when I wake up every morning… Every day I find something creative to do with my life.
— Miles Davis
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Contact Jim for information on his Holistic Leadership Workshop