A Great Leader = A Great Teacher

By Dr. Mary Kay

Updated Over a Week Ago

Minute Read

Think back to a great teacher you’ve had in your life. Maybe he or she encouraged you and helped you explore future career opportunities that would incorporate your talents. Maybe you had a coach who not only taught you how to do a perfect lay-up but also reminded you about the importance of getting good grades.

How about your friends or parents and all the lessons they may have taught you: to push yourself to succeed, to do the things you love, to believe that you can be or do anything that you set your mind to?

Great Leaders

Teaching Others to Find Success

Great leaders love working with people—it’s that simple. Personal interaction on a professional level is what keeps leaders going and what inspires them to try harder in everything they do. Of course, there are always exceptions.

There are those people in formal leadership positions who become more concerned with their own achievements than the people they influence. Too blinded by their own egos, they think they are great leaders, capable of lifting the team to new heights that it could not possibly attain on its own.

This desire to achieve is admirable and temporarily good for the company’s profits, but, in the long run, it will not work. Even though these people claim to be leaders, it’s clear to others that they are misclassifying themselves.

There’s a big difference between managing others to succeed and teaching others to find success themselves.

Great leaders find satisfaction not only in teaching others but also in mentoring them—in showing others how they can become more than they ever believed they could. These types of leaders have a strong drive to invest in people, not for the return it will give them, but for the rewards it will bring to these people personally.

You Have Teaching Skills

You may be thinking that because you don’t have any formal educational training under your belt, you aren’t qualified to teach anything to anyone.

But instead of coming up with reasons why you can’t, look instead to the following teaching skills that great leaders strive to display:

Bringing Out the Best in People

As a leader, your interactions with others are positive; even in the face of crisis, you stress the “upside” and motivate those around you to do the same. Your optimism and drive inspire others to work to their potential; a good teacher uses enthusiasm to bring life to any subject, no matter how difficult or disliked it might be.

Inspiring Trust

Because they know that you will always “have their backs,” your team members give you their full faith. Trust is an important component in learning—who will believe in a teacher who is untrustworthy? When it comes time for you to fill that role for others, you will have their attention as well as their dedication.

Working as part of the team. While good teachers must have a certain air of authority, they also give their learners the sense they are all in the learning process together and that they all have a stake in the sharing of information.

Leaders utilize this same technique when they show others they are willing to give them hands-on training or troubleshoot a problem with them instead of handing down orders and expecting them to be followers with no involvement on their part.

Being a Good Role Model

The most effective way to teach people is by having them do the talking rather than you. Telling alone—what I like to call “preaching”—does not signify or create commitment. Your team will get more out of seeing you model the right way to handle situations than they will from hearing a speech about how to do it.


Know the Difference

A great leader can also be a great teacher by understanding the difference between management and leadership.

Situations arise from time to time that calls for people in formal leadership positions to rely on management skills—to be a manager when people don’t want to work with you or don’t want to learn. Some are probably used to being at home and putting their “parenting hat” on and making a final decision or setting boundaries.

Deciding which “hat” to wear—leader/teacher or manager/parent—can sometimes be difficult. To help you decide which way you should address a particular situation in the workplace—as a leader/teacher or a manager—first, decide what the underlying issue is.

For example, if a team member comes to you concerned about a coworker’s contribution to the team, should you take it as a cue to coach him in the concepts of teamwork, accountability, and confidentiality? Or, as his manager, should you tell him that he needs to focus on his own work and contribution? Which hat to wear depends on the situation.

As you lead others, there will be many situations in which you will use your leading/teaching skills and some that will require you to transition to your managerial skills to ensure a culture of commitment. Here are some workplace examples:


Misunderstandings about the work that needs to be done. If a particular employee is not operating to her full potential because the scope or procedures of a project have not been optimally communicated to her, take it in stride and recognize that you may have to put in some teaching time with her to bring her back up to speed.

Don’t simply give her the manual or verbal instructions and let her figure it out herself, as a manager would do; take the time to explain the process or procedure again, knowing that your effort will help her produce better work in the end.

Low Productivity

If, on the other hand, you have an employee whose production level is low and you’ve spoken to him about it already in the past, it’s time for you to put on the manager’s hat and let this person know that he really has to pick up the pace.

You’ve probably already addressed the “people issue” surrounding the downturn in his output—that is, you’ve worked with him to understand the root of his issue and solved it in a manner that agrees with you both. If, after all your leader/teacher efforts, it’s still just not working out, then you need to step up, be the manager, and set up an accountability process.

Interpersonal Issues

Interpersonal issues. If team members disagree and come to you for mediation, coach them in conflict resolution and cooperation principles. If you can teach them how to develop solutions and commit to acting upon them together—without bringing you or another manager into it—then they will have the communication skills to resolve their own disagreements amicably in the future.


Putting a lid on negativity. As a leader, you strive to create a workplace environment where no one wants to talk negatively about anyone else, but the fact of the matter is that it will happen anyway.

When you become aware that the rumor mill has been put into motion or that malicious statements are being made, it’s time for you to step in and use your managerial authority. To nip the behavior in the bud, remind your employees about the organization’s core values and provide clear expectations – no exceptions.

It’s All About Balance

It may seem as though management and leadership are two distinct entities that cannot exist in harmony with each other, but they can. Both are essential; it’s just a matter of knowing which one to use at the appropriate time and not letting one take over the other.

As with so many things in life, running a successful operation or household is all about balance – knowing when to take time to teach and when to manage.

Do You Know a Great Teacher?

If you had a great teacher and would like to share any experiences you had with them, share your comments below. Thanks!

Would you like to contribute a post?

Dr. Mary Kay on FacebookDr. Mary Kay on Twitter
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay
Dr. Mary Kay is a business leadership strategist, executive coach, trainer, author, and co-founder of the About Leaders community. She’s consulted with hundreds of companies and trained thousands of leaders. Her Ultimate Leader Success course helps managers become more confident, decisive leaders. Follow her on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Ron Whitaker says:

    Great article! I need to work on my teaching skills.

  • Dave Selden says:

    Great article!
    I especially like “Teaching Others to Find Success”-so important in caring for and motivating the people who work for you.

  • Tim Cummuta says:

    My father used to say to me often when I was young, “ I can’t hear you, your actions are speaking too loudly.” It is so important as a leader/teacher/mentor to act congruent with your talk. When you are in a mentoring environment you will be remembered far more by what you did that matched what you said than anything else.

    Thank you for the clarification between leaders and managers. While these two can work together, they are distinct in how they operate. You made that very clear.

    How would go about working with a manager who does not understand leadership?

  • Get them enrolled in our leadership development program immediately.

  • Acton Ace says:

    Leadership is a quality that everyone should process. Being a leader is not cushy along with it comes responsibility and accountability. Leaders have the responsibilities to maximize the potential of the people with whom they graft & encouraging them to follow the wisdom of others. Leader should be honest and integrated in order to succeed and inspire others to follow them.

    • Vision. A smashing leader must bring vision to life 4 that they must be future focused i.e. they must know, what is to be done, How it is to be done & For whom it is to be done. This can be done by casting their vision and ensuring that they have the right people in right place.
    • Emotional Intelligence. Good leader is always wiser with people with whom they work with for this they must be well versed with Emotional Intelligence skills. True leader should know how to use power of other people emotions along with their own this will help them more productivity and collaboration which will help them to grow further.
    • Effective Communication Skills. Savvy leaders are the one who is a mint listener, ask question and speaks if something is to be said. In leadership communication is a key, leader must be able to communicate with others but being a mint listener will surely going to help.
    Mr Chris Salamone https://goo.gl/S8dMjD formerly served as a faculty member at Loyola University Chicago School of Law and the National Institute of Trial Advocacy, and served as a leadership curriculum adviser at The University of Central Oklahoma. Chris Salamone works to improve the lives of young people around the world through his many philanthropic endeavors. He functions as chairman of the Lead America Foundation and extends a considerable amount of financial support to fund the education of 300 children in Haiti.

  • Fekadu Daba says:

    Absolutely i got a new insight.

  • {"email":"Email address invalid","url":"Website address invalid","required":"Required field missing"}
    Brilliant Leadership Logo

    Improve Yourself & Your Team

    Get The Training Proven By 40,000+ Leaders