Most people have had someone in their life who served as a great teacher to them.
It might have been a parent, someone in school or church, a family member, a friend of the family or a neighbor.
Whoever it was that had a lasting and positive impact on your life - can you name that one person?
Business owners have a terrific opportunity every day. That opportunity is to teach, to mentor, to coach, to lead, to inspire and to make a positive lifelong impact on all those around them, especially the employees of their company.
All too often, however, the wrong message and the wrong teachings emanate from the owner to the employees. That is because the owner forgets that the best way to teach people is by example.
In the rush and crush of all the demands put on an owner, it is the easy, small things that can make a big difference: saying "Please" and "Thank you," for example.
Every owner is occasionally guilty of forgetting the small things. But employees don't forget when an owner fails to remember the small things.
When you think about the people in your life that reached and impacted you, what you remember is how they made you feel. Perhaps you can remember the exact words used, but even if you can't, it was how those words were spoken that stands out in your memory.
The owner as teacher is critical to the success of the employee and the enterprise. Employees don't forget how someone made them feel.
And how an employee feels is passed on the clients, prospects and vendors.
When other airlines started charging for checked bags, Southwest Airlines passed on the opportunity to charge its customers fees because the leaders of the company knew that the front line employees would take the brunt of the negative reaction from passengers. The airline did not want to place employees in an adversarial position with paying customers.
This decision, which meant a loss of hundreds of millions of dollars of potential revenue for Southwest, is an example of the highest level of teaching. And it is one of the reasons that the company is successful in a mature, competitive marketplace.
Often, owners believe that an employee should know what to do and how to do everything when they're on the job, even if newly hired. This is the lowest level of teaching employees, and it is called "mind reading." Employees are expected to read the mind of their superiors and act accordingly.
It's hard to believe that people operate this way but it is more common than you think; if you have ever heard "We are not a training company" you'll know what kind of place it is.
The second stage of teaching is telling. I used to have a boss who would pontificate about how something should be done. He would rant and rave; give step-by-step instructions; expect me to write them down and follow them through to the smallest detail.
There was one big problem with this; this particular person had never done the task himself; he assumed that he was smarter than everyone else and so his teaching style was to give instructions as to how everything should be done.
The third stage is explaining. When the supervisor explains, he or she is taking the time to provide the necessary background. This comes from experience and the time and effort is expended so that the learner has a strong understanding behind the teaching.
John Wooden used to spend the time to explain to his college basketball players why it was so important to put on an athletic sock in a specific way.
His players used to laugh about this, but Wooden provided the rationale as to why he was explaining it. Wooden didn't want his players getting blisters on their feet when the game was on the line.
Not only did Wooden explain this process, he demonstrated it. This is the fourth level of teaching, to demonstrate what needs to be done to the person learning it.
The fifth level of teaching is to inspire. At the top of the column, I challenged you to think of one person that had a strong, long-lasting impact on your life in a positive way. You know who that individual is. Have you taken the time to connect with them to thank them?
Today, you are the owner of a business. What level of teaching are you performing for your employees? Is your teaching method that of the less-than-mediocre "mind reader' or the greatness of one who inspires by word and deed?
Ken Keller is president of STAR Business Consulting Inc., helping top executives make better decisions. He can be reached at (661) 645-7086 or KenKeller@SBCglobal.net.