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Does Your Boss Pass the Teacher Test?

Topics: Work Culture

A boss can make or break a job. An excellent leader inspires the entire team toward a shared vision, listens, and builds trust. A not-so-great boss, on the other hand, is the number one reason people quit their jobs.


(Photo Credit: blondinrikard/Flickr)

Robert Sutton, author of Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst, wrote a piece for Psychology Today about what distinguishes a good leader from the rest. In it, he reflected on an idea originally presented by John Lilly, who was the CEO of Mozilla at the time, about how good leaders often think and act like good teachers.

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“When I think in terms of helping people learn to be even better, it automatically puts me into an empathetic mode (because teaching, fundamentally, is about understanding where the learner is coming from), and that sets up the interaction really well,” Lilly wrote in an email exchange with Sutton.

There is something to the idea that good bosses act like good teachers, and it’s also quite possible that difficult bosses could remind you of some of the more challenging teachers you had growing up. So, think about your own manager and look over the following list to determine if your boss passes this (totally unscientific but fun) teacher test. Award a point for every item that seems to apply.

1. It’s clear that good teachers are having fun.

Some teachers are funny, others are super enthusiastic about their subject matter. But, one way or another, good teachers show their students that they are genuinely having fun. Emotions are contagious, so the bliss ends up filtering through the whole group.

2. A good teacher knows when the class is lost.

They don’t go on and on talking about something when it’s clear (from words and body language) that the group doesn’t understand the idea on a fundamental level. A good teacher backs up at this point, slows down, and makes sure everyone is on board with the basics before getting into details and complexities.

3. A good teacher doesn’t burden students with their problems, emotions, or personal life.

Leaders are meant to be strong emotionally, or, at least stable. A teacher who comes to work super tired, angry, or full of complaints is abusing the position and not taking the job seriously enough.

4. Good teachers are predictable.

It helps people feel safe when the person in charge is somewhat predictable. Good leaders don’t fly off the handle over nothing one minute and then let something really huge slip through the cracks the next. They are emotionally stable and predictable. You know what you’re going to get when you walk in the door, or up to their desk.

5. They’re experts.

It’s not that you can’t stump a good teacher – of course you can. Good teachers are secure enough to admit when they don’t know the answer to something. However, they also have a really excellent understanding of the material they’re presenting. Their expertise helps inspire trust and confidence in their students.

6. Good teachers are flexible and they know their students.

The best teachers are able to present information and instructions in a variety of ways, ensuring that the message is received and understood by a variety of different people. We all have strengths and preferences; a good teacher takes the time to get to know their students and presents information in few ways in order to reach everyone.

7. A good teacher clearly loves their job.

Nothing is worse than a teacher who’s looking over their shoulder at the clock half of the time. Of course students follow suit and can’t wait to leave also. Great teachers clearly love what they do. They lose track of time, get fired up, laugh and smile. It’s clear that good teachers aren’t there for the money, or to have a captive audience; they just simply love what they do.

If five or more of these statements reminded you of your manager, than congratulations, you have a boss who’s passed the teacher test! If they did not, just remember that a lifetime of schooling prepared you for dealing with difficult leaders, too. Just focus on doing your job and try not to get in trouble for goofing off – which is totally more tempting in a bad teacher’s class, by the way.

Tell Us What You Think

Did your boss pass the teacher test? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

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