No Image Available

Bernie Bulkin

Read more from Bernie Bulkin

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

Great leaders are great teachers


Bernie Bulkin compares the life of a leader to the environment of the classroom. What can we learn? Read on to find out.

I frequently thought of staff meetings, even the more senior level executive committees, as rather boring chunks of time in my work week. Sure there are things that need to be communicated, and items to be decided, but once these things are set up as regular occurrences, week in and week out, they tend to degenerate into unstimulating lists of agenda items to be got through./p>

But when I worked at Sohio, I spent some time working for Ron McGimpsey, who led the refining and supply side of the business at that time. He showed me that the meeting – in this case it was monthly – was really an opportunity to teach and learn. I think many great leaders use team meetings or executive committee meetings this way.

I recall one meeting we had with Ron, where we had wound up with a surplus of product in one part of the state, and had suffered on prices. Rather than just rueing the events that had led to that, or chastising the manager who had erred, he took the time to say: OK, let’s understand how we got into this mess, how we get out of it, and most important, how stop it happening again. We worked together for an hour or so on this, as a group, until we all understood it deeply. I thought: now that was really valuable, that was something where we all walked away from discussing what was a bad result and had a good outcome.

"Teaching doesn’t just take place in meetings; as important is what leaders do one-to-one, in my office or yours"

It may seem a luxury to take time out to explain and teach in this way. I don’t think so. Rather it is the way in which today’s leader develops the future leadership of the company, and the way that a deep understanding of principles, strategy, and culture are embedded in management. Done well, at all levels, it is as good a use of time as there is for a corporate leader.

But teaching doesn’t just take place in meetings; as important is what leaders do one-to-one, in my office or yours. When, after a presentation that has gone wrong, or even more usefully, in advance of a major presentation when I have seen slides that don’t seem to be making the point, I go to see the person who has or will be presenting, and we sit together and look at how this could be done better, bringing my experience to bear in a teaching mode – well, that is something that the motivated team member will value for some time to come.

There are so many sensitivities in companies - people worried about what the boss as well as what their peers think of them - that leaders have to be very conscious of being in teaching mode rather than in criticising mode. Sometimes, as I have described above, this can be done very well in a meeting format, and the benefit is not just for the person who made the mistake but for the whole team. But other times it is best done in a private ‘tutorial’ session. You will know what is appropriate as you know your team members well, just as any teacher must know his students well if he is to be effective with them.

Bernie Bulkin is the author of Crash Course, recently published by Whitefox, and available online and from bookstores. He is senior partner with Re.fresch, specialising in leadership and operational effectiveness. Bernie was formerly a senior executive with BP, and has served on numerous company boards


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!