Business schools are a big deal. There are about 100,000 MBA degrees awarded annually; and with as many as 250,000 MBA students paying $60,000 apiece in tuition, business school is big business, as well.
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Add that to the amount we spend educating business leaders already on the job — plus what’s invested in entrepreneurs through programs such as accelerators, incubators and entrepreneurship skills — and the price tag is immense.
So, considering everything that’s being spent to teach business leaders, the question becomes, why don’t we spend more making sure these newly minted business leaders can teach? At first, the connection may not be obvious. But as someone myself who’s taught education leadership at Columbia Business School, I know that great business leaders — and entrepreneurs, most especially — are good teachers.
Entrepreneurs, after all, have to teach potential customers about the value of their innovations and differentiators, for example. They have to teach investors about markets and their business plans. And, perhaps most importantly, entrepreneurs have to teach team members about company culture, policies and goals.
As a team grows, few things are as important as the need to be sure that all team members understand their individual roles, as well as the core values and goals of the company overall. Team members should not be left to divine these lessons on their own. They need to be told. They need to be taught.
1. Be clear, direct.
When it comes to teaching, clarity is indispensable. If you want your team — or others — to understand and internalize what’s important, boil it down and be direct. That applies to your company’s core values, individual and team goals and what is and is not expected. Don’t sugarcoat things, bury them within on boarding Power Points or leave the dirty work to other team members. Deliver the important messages clearly and directly.
2. Link lessons to projects.
One of the keys to teaching entrepreneurship, and many other subjects, is project-based learning. That’s learning by doing and applying lessons to long-term, long-range projects. It’s a great way to teach your team members and allow them to learn.
Better yet, make those projects real — things that really benefit your business. People remember what they do far longer than what someone tells them, no matter how inspirational the message. “You can spend all the time in the world in a classroom, but it really connects when you use your skills on real tasks,” says Phil Tadros, entrepreneurial founder of Doejo. “Now, more than ever, companies want to see experience on a resume. That’s why business schools are changing everything. Tying hands-on projects into education is what entrepreneurs need.”
3. Practice teamwork.
When you design your teaching around projects, put your employees into teams. Make sure they collaborate on team-oriented solutions, especially if the individuals are from different parts of your company. Few things will do more to build actual teamwork than actually working in teams.
Team learning lets people absorb material by watching, doing and teaching others. It’s a powerful, long-lasting contribution.
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4. Create ownership.
Many entrepreneurs struggle with delegation, and those who do may not have confidence in their teaching skills. If this describes you, and you’ve delivered your core messages clearly and directly and built good learning projects, back up a few steps. Give your team members space to deploy the lessons and learn on their own.
Give them space to safely fail and make their own space — within the company framework — in order to make their own way.
5. Teach what you know.
You don’t need an MBA, or PhD for that matter, in anything to be a good teacher. If you’re an entrepreneur, you probably know your business and your motivations better than anyone, so teach that knowledge instead of particle physics or business theory. Share who you are, why you’re invested and what you want. Those are some of the best lessons of all.
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6. Build a learning culture.
If workplace learning feels like homework, your team members may miss the point. Or worse. Instead, build a workplace culture that values learning in and out of work. Recognize and support your team members who pursue and complete education goals. Encourage leisure reading and creativity-inducing experiences, like art, music and travel. Your team members will be better for it, their contributions will be stronger and the lessons you want to teach will be more likely to stick.