What Businesses Should Learn from the Military – Part V, Teachers


Find and reward teachers

When I was a young Marine I was trained as data network specialist. Basically I took care of the base’s internet capabilities with my shop. At the end of the first tour in Iraq, as you will remember, we all had to go back to the rifle range. Well something interesting was that of all the other computer nerds (yes the Marine Corps has those) I was the only one that could shoot. So they pulled me to be a coach, because shooting is kind of important in that culture. They didn’t just throw me out to make Marine’s shooters. Nope, you guessed it, I went to more training. I spent a month in another school to get deep level understanding of weapons manipulation, ballistics and how to train Marines. Yes, training was part of my training. The Corps made such an investment in my education that they gave me a secondary occupational specialty to be a teacher of Marines. I did so well at that, that they even made me the trainer for officers and senior enlisted in the pistol, too. Think about this, in the first nine months I trained, at a cost of hundreds of thousands to the Marine Corps for my first job. Then, a little over a year later, they gave me another job, just because quality educators are so important for that thing that only 1% of Marines will ever do.

All that to say this, did you know that individual leadership isn’t everything? Sometimes teachers are more valuable. Teachers are those people who are able to spread knowledge to dozens, even hundreds of people at a time. They encourage learning by individuals even when they are not at work. They are also masters of getting individuals over the tough obstacles and increasing their potential as employees and as people. But they don’t have to have a deep attachment to the people they are training or direct responsibility for their work (like Managers). Find these people. Give them special recognition and special responsibilities. Most of the time, whatever you have them doing is not as valuable as being capable of improving the performance of hundreds of others.

Don’t make this mistake: Managers or Leaders aren’t Teachers. It isn’t that they can’t be, but don’t make the mistake of only looking at your most senior leadership as being able to teach because they can do. Doing and teaching are two very different skills, the same as leading. Some are masters of their trade, but couldn’t explain it if their life depended on it. Put them in front of an audience and they look like fools, and now their confidence is shot. Broken goods. I liked one company that did small seminars between members of their engineering staff to all other members. Most of the time, it wasn’t the managers doing this, just the regular button pushers. You’ll find good teachers by sitting in on these classes. Like I said, pull these people and give them responsibility to disseminating information. It will be an important job that improves many aspects of your organization without even hiring a soul.

Furthermore, you need to know that teachers aren’t leaders. They have a technical ability, but really, their skill is communicating. Allow them the chance to perform a good class and you might see them growing greatly toward becoming a good leader. Recognizing teachers in your organization and putting them on the stand should be considered a vital part of your process toward mentoring, growing and developing future managers and leaders of your company.


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