Ep 109: The Seduction of Teaching
Leadership is the act of creating more leaders, and in one way or another, it will require you to teach something to your people. However, without people knowing it, teaching can lead you astray as a leader. Reminding you to be on guard about it, Adam Quiney dedicates this episode to talk about the seduction of teaching and how it relates to your leadership role. He discusses when and how teaching can be destructive, how it differs from leadership, how it leads to automaticity, and why it can be dangerous. Follow along to find out how teaching does not serve you all the time and what you can do about it.
Listen to the Episode Here:
The Seduction Of Teaching
This is the show where we have conversations that cause leadership rather than conversations about leadership. What we’re going to talk about is the seduction of teaching. What I mean by that is that sometimes, leadership will require that you teach something to your people. The rest of the time, it will not. Teaching is seductive because it appeals to both parties in the equation of leader and report or a coach and client.
Teaching Versus Leadership
We want to be on guard for this and see when and how teaching can lead us astray. First, what is this? Let’s begin by distinguishing teaching from leadership. Leadership is the act of creating more leaders. There are many ways that we can do this. Teaching is sometimes part of what is called for. We may need to teach people a huge variety of things. We need to teach them how to run a meeting, how to shut down the shop at the end of the night, how to operate the tools, etc.
Leadership is a much broader umbrella that will require you to bring, be, and do whatever is required in the moment to call forward and cause someone’s leadership. It can include teaching, but it also includes and isn’t limited to standing for something or someone, coaching someone, doing something yourself, letting other people do something themselves and making a mess, teaching, etc. For a more in-depth look at what is required of a leader and how to be a leader and all of what that demands, I’d recommend checking out the podcast called Get Lit by Adam Quiney.
We’re not going to go too deep into that, but that podcast has tons of stuff. If you had someone whose leadership you were developing, and you were to always teach them when they came to you, you would be hampered in the same way that you would be hampered if you could only ever give them a directive. If you could only ever coach them or if you could only ever do it yourself. A leader needs to be able to have access to every single possible action that is available rather than whatever is available through their automatic go-to.
What I mean here is that in truth, any automaticity will limit your leadership. A leader is someone who has access to all possible ways of being and all possible actions to do at the moment. That doesn’t mean that just because you have access to spitting on the floor as a leader that that’s what you were going to do. That may or may not move the conversation or move the things forward that need to be moved forward to create the results you’re committed to.
The important thing here is that as soon as we create a rule set and an automatic always win this, go and do that, we have limited your access to choices as a leader. Once you find yourself in a situation where your automatic sends you in one direction but what would create the result you need to create was to spit on the floor, you don’t have that opportunity. I know it sounds a little silly. I’m talking about spitting on the floor as an action, but I want to reflect.
You’ll see people all the time on the internet, on LinkedIn especially as rife with these images of what people think leadership looks like and what leadership actually looks like. One of my favorites is the bad leadership. This is the management or how leadership is bad, or whatever the image is. Someone sitting on a block and then telling other people to pull it, and then it’s like, “What leadership should or good?” Whatever it looks like.
It’s the leader out in front pulling it, which is true except that there are times when what the leader needs to do is to model having other people do the work and then not doing it because there’s something else that they need to be taking on. In fact, there are times when the leader needs to model not doing any work at all, such as taking a lunch break. Your wellbeing matters as a leader and there are times when you need to not be working.
What I want to make clear here is that any automaticity is dangerous or challenging. Whether the automaticity is you take it from people, fix it, and give it back to them. Whether the automaticity is anytime you feel your people suffering or struggling with something, you go to help them. Whether the automaticity is every time someone comes to you, you defer them, or every time someone comes to you confused, you teach them how to do it.
Why Teaching Is Seductive
Any automaticity is dangerous and challenging and limiting to your leadership. Let’s look at why teaching in particular is so seductive and how that leads to automaticity. Teaching is seductive for a couple of reasons. First, it’s seductive because it’ll appeal to both the ego of the teacher and the teachee, or the leader and the direct, or the coach and the client. You’ll probably remember this from the last episode. Anytime we have both parties in the relationship drawn to this particular thing and we have something’s going to appeal to both of their egos, that’s a lot of gravity pulling us in a certain direction.
It appeals to the ego of the leader because it puts them in a position of authority. When we teach, we have information to disperse. It fluffs our feathers to be asked to teach. Being asked to teach something is a social signal that, “I am of value. I have worth. I have the experience that you need. I am above you in a hierarchy.” It tells us that we’ve got value and that our work has not been for nothing. Indirectly, teaching is an act of acknowledgment.
Either when someone asks us to teach them or when, for whatever reason, we end up teaching, it acknowledges us for our value and the gifts that we can provide. I say indirectly because actual acknowledgment comes in the form of someone acknowledging you. “Ron, I acknowledge you for your brilliance. I love how you break down this.” If Ron is teaching and people are listening, then that is an indirect communication that, “I appreciate something about what you’re teaching.”
It indirectly fills the need of the teacher for acknowledgment. If you think you were above getting acknowledged, then you’re just a little bit deluded. It’s okay. It’s just human nature. We need acknowledgment and we need to be seen. A point worth mentioning here is that leaders who are less responsible for getting their needs met, specifically their needs of acknowledgment or unable to see that they need them, are more prone to get them met indirectly through teaching.
The more you insist you don’t need acknowledgment, the more you have a disempowered relationship to being acknowledged. The less willing you are to ask for acknowledgment, the more likely you are to find yourself teaching. It appeals to the ego of the teachee, the direct, or the client because they don’t have to worry about moving forward in the face of their not knowing. They can just come, get direction, and then avoid the risk of doing it wrong.
As long as they ask and then follow the directions, it’s not their fault when things went wrong and didn’t go the way they were supposed to. How could it be their fault? They were following the directions that the teacher provided them. It creates a bit of a safeguard. It acts as a CYA, a Cover Your Ass protection for the direct, client, teachee, or student because it gets them out of the risk of being responsible for how things go in terms of whatever they’re leading.
Remember, leading us into the unknown, you’re going to have to make some decisions or choices that you don’t know if they’re going to work out. That means you’re going to have to be called to account for it, and then to handle how things go the next time or when there’s a breakdown or when things didn’t go the way we predicted they would go. That’s scary for a lot of people. Rather than be with that and lead through all of it, instead, we can go to the teacher.
When we do that, we either get the right way to follow, and then we don’t have to worry about it, or we get the wrong way but it’s not our fault. The last point is the second thing that makes us effective. That lets the leader continue to have their hands in what is happening so they still get to have this sense of value and it lets the direct, client, and student abdicate from stepping into their own leadership. It will, by definition, require them to step into the unknown, where they necessarily do not know the answer.
The other thing that it does is it creates followers. On your teams, we’re shifting into like, “Why does this even matter as a leader? What’s the impact here?” On your teams, you’re going to create teams that are dependent on you as a leader. You’ll find yourself attending more meetings than you say you desire. You’ll be unable to unplug yourself and you’ll wonder why you have to attend meetings and never seem to have enough time.
The answer to that question is because you’ve created that. You’ve created that because you’re getting something out of it and what you are getting out of it is this sense of value and sense of worth. As a result, you end up as a bedraggled leader and frustrated because your teams don’t take initiative. The reason for that is because you’ve trained them not to. In fact, it goes even further. You’ve taken away the ability for them to have initiative.
What the ultimate impact of teaching in your teams is that you end up with yourself as a leader of followers. People that will follow you and teams that will show up when you’re there, but then when you leave, you will find yourself frustrated. “Why aren’t they motivated? Why aren’t they doing this stuff?” On the personal level, you’ll get valued for your impact, but this will keep you from needing to be responsible for your own needs such as being acknowledged and recognized.
Instead, it’s going to have you become more dependent on teaching people as a way of establishing your value. As time goes on, this can lead to people that lecture, pontificate, and give unwelcome advice as the need for that acknowledgment becomes more repressed and the requirement for it to be met indirectly becomes more urgent. This is one of the funny impacts of when we can own our needs. When we can’t own like, “I want to be seen for my brilliance. Can you acknowledge how smart I am? Can you acknowledge me for how generous I am?”
You have to do this to your direct, so you can bring this to your leader, friends, or coach. “I realize I need some acknowledgment.” We tend to be unwilling to ask for that because we perceive it as weak, and then we get into these silly games. You’ve probably spent time around people like this, where they can lecture endlessly. You get into a conversation with them and you say four words, and then they spend the next half hour telling you what you should do. It’s like, “Who asked you?”
The truth is this person is getting an unspoken need met through that interaction and the sad part is they’re not even aware of it. This is why you as a leader have to be responsible for this in yourself, and then you have to be responsible for choosing a side of it, even and especially when your people are like, “Teach me.” I’m not saying you never teach them. I’m saying that by being willing to notice your natural pull that you start to choose outside of it more often than not.
We’ll get into how you may practice. I want to interject, this is my stuff. Part of the essence, part of the essential nature that I bring into this planet is a lot of brilliance. Brilliant people like to be acknowledged for brilliance, just like if you’re a generous person, you’d like to be acknowledged for your generosity. We all want to be seen as ourselves, so I want to be seen as my brilliance. I used to have a lot of stories about not being brilliant enough or seen for it or acknowledged for it, so that I tried to get great grades, which would give me that.
For a while, I worked hard as a lawyer and tried to get accolades and promotions, but eventually, you get to a point where you’re not getting much from above and that’s when this whole teaching thing sets in. I have to be aware as a leader and as a coach how appealing it is for me to teach. It doesn’t mean that I never do, but I have to be conscious of how seductive that is for me in particular. I’m going to draw clients or directs to me that are a reflection of myself. The people I work with are also going to want me to teach them. It’s the double seductive whammy as we call it here at Get Lit.
What Can You Do About The Dangers Of Teaching
What can you do about this? The first is you can get clear on the distinctions between leading and teaching and recognize the seductive tendency of teaching. Even just being able to distinguish like, “Leading is not the same as always teaching. If I’m always teaching, I’m probably not leading.” Recognize that seduction. You can get clear like, “Where am I most likely to teach? Where do you see yourself teaching the most? Where does that show up often, almost like a default?”
If you don’t resonate with the idea of teaching, like if this conversation for you is like, “It’s not something I do,” then you could take a look at whatever your automatic go-to is. When people come to you in a leadership conversation, what’s your default? What do you reach for? If you’re like, “I don’t have a default,” I’d invite you to get a little more curious than that. You do. We all do. That’s just nature. See if you can hold that default the same way we’ve been talking about teaching and get like, “There isn’t automatic, and automatic is problematic.”
You know that’s true because it rhymes. If it didn’t rhyme, it would not be true. You can notice what teaching is getting in the way of and stopping your people from having to do. For example, if your people couldn’t come to you or anyone else for the answers, what would they have to take on? What would they then have to confront if they couldn’t come for you for an easy answer and be taught? How does this tie into the leadership breakthrough you see for them?
The other place you can practice, and a lot of people don’t like this one, is to take teaching out of your toolkit for the next three months. Anytime we have an automatic go-to, one of the most powerful things to do is remove it entirely. People often protest this and they say, “There are times when I should be teaching and I’m good at it.” I say, “Yes, you are right. You are 100% correct. If you are having that reaction to the suggestion of this practice, I would be willing to bet you’re quite good at teaching. It’s nuanced and practiced, but that is a comfortable range for you.”
“The reason you’re so good at it is because you’ve practiced it a lot. If you take away something that you’re reliable for, you’re going to have to develop new muscles and that is going to be what will cause your breakthrough.” Furthermore, people suddenly say, “What if I just do it when I think it’s necessary?” I get the impulse. The trouble is because it’s so automatic and such default for you, you’re not going to be to discern it. The way you find out when it is necessary is you start by taking away for just three months. I promise you can have it back.
If you take that on, one, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to hear what you create from that. I’ll share my email at the end of this show. It’d be cool to hear anyone that’s taking that on or has taken it on and the results that are created. Further, if you take it on, you’re going to find that something magical happens. At first, it’ll be incredibly frustrating and your people might be like, “This is annoying. Just tell me the answer.” Your job as a leader will be to share with them what’s going on transparently.
“Believe me, I want to give you that answer, too. I would love to. I’m trying something new and you can take this on. Why don’t you start by giving it a go or letting me know what you see and we can see where we go from there?” You’re practicing a different approach with them. In the early days of having my leadership developed working with a leader and a coach who was a magnificent man, he came to me. I’ve shared this story on this show before, but I’ll say it again.
I’ll share a slightly different one, which is one of the things I love and one of the things as one of my gifts is the art of metaphor. I can create and craft metaphors that help convey something clearly, but I noticed the coach training that I was leading at the time, I was starting to put everything through a metaphor. It made it nice and easy for people and it allowed me to feel brilliant. Someone reflected to me like, “You use metaphor almost constantly, all the time.”
I knew it was going to come because I’d already been told a couple of years previously, “Stop being funny,” at the front of the room for six months. Sure enough, this time, we co-created it myself and the leader of reflecting this. “What are we going to practice? I’m going to take away metaphor for the next three months.” It was hard, annoying, and a little bit boring. I wanted to pick that tool back up. Being willing to let go of that, I found that I started to have a deeper ability to let people be in the struggle themselves without me giving them this beautiful penned metaphor.
I started to connect a lot more with people. I got much deeper into connection because I wasn’t relying on my brilliance so much. When they were struggling, I would sit, be with them, and get what was going on and that created access to a whole new world of possibilities that previously hadn’t been there because that wasn’t just an automatic for me. Go to the brilliant metaphor. That’s everything we’ve got for you this episode. That email, if you would like to share that you’re taking that practice on with something, teaching, or anything else, send an email to me and let me know, Adam@AdamQuiney.com or you can also send it to PR@AdamQuiney.com. I would love to hear from you.
If you have taken that on and you want to share how that went, let me know and I’ll share those results on the show. You can be anonymous. I won’t share your name. That’d be neat to share how that’s gone for someone. I’d love to hear that over on this side of the conversation. That’s all that we’ve got for you this episode. If you are liking these conversations and you find yourself inspired and craving for even more depth, the place to do that is The Forge. I don’t know if we even have slots left. We’ve sold most of them quickly. We may have no spaces or we may have some.
In any case, if you are ready to go deeper into your own life, deepen your leadership, and create results beyond your wildest dreams, the place to do is The Forge. You can read more about that at EvergrowthCoaching.com/the-forge. The Forge is a beautiful work. It’s one of the favorite things that my wife and I get to do. It’s a nine-month program. It has a retreat included at no extra cost to you. It’s going to be phenomenal and I’m excited about the group of leaders and coaches that we have taken this journey with us. I hope to see you.