The Army Leader is a Teaching Leader


Over a decade of war has changed the fabric of the U.S. armed forces.  Short mobilization cycles and changing theater tactics necessitated the development of a learning culture within the organizations.  This learning culture, however, is fundamentally NOT the culture that has sustained our premier forces throughout our history.  As the armed forces move into a garrison environment and resources diminish, it is time for the culture to shift back to what we fundamentally are…a teaching culture.

General Colin Powell, in his autobiography It Worked for Me: In Life and Leadership, explains that he has been a professional speaker, trainer, and teacher his entire adult career.  He explains

From my first day in my unit as an Army officer, I had to speak to and teach troops.

General Powell built his success on the enduring Army culture where leaders teach troops and other leaders.  They not only learn they pass knowledge on.  Instilling the desire to improve and learn is the important part of any the learning culture; A teaching organization further infuses learning with the culture of passing it on to others.  Noel Tichy, author of the Leadership Engine puts it this way:

(Organizations) that consistently outperform competitors (have) moved beyond being learning organizations to become teaching organizations….That’s because teaching organizations are more agile, come up with better strategies, and are able to implement them more effectively…. Teaching organizations do share with learning organizations the goal that everyone continually acquire new knowledge and skills. But to do that, they add the more critical goal that everyone pass their learning on to others…. In a teaching organization, leaders benefit just by preparing to teach others. Because the teachers are people with hands-on experience within the organization—rather than outside consultants—the people being taught learn relevant, immediately useful concepts and skills. Teaching organizations are better able to achieve success and maintain it because their constant focus is on developing people to become leaders.

In short, leaders train leaders.

There are three principles that should guide organization toward instilling a teaching culture across their organization.

  1. Everyone is a leader.  By assignment or assumed role, every single member of an organization is a leader.  Therefore, every member of the organization has the responsibility to learn and pass that knowledge on.
  2. Leaders have a teachable point of view.  An organization with a teachable point of view aligns vision, ideas, and emotional energy.
  3. Tell a compelling story.  Effective leaders are visionary leaders.  Without vision, even an organization with a well-motivated workforce will never improve.  Teaching leaders communicate a clear vision and inspire achievement through compelling reasons why the vision will be achieved and how to do it.  This echoes the Army leadership definition that calls on leaders to influence through purpose, direction, and motivation.

When he began coaching the Chicago Bulls in 1989 Coach Phil Jackson inherited the greatest basketball player of all time in Michael Jordan.  In his book Sacreed Hoop, Coach Jackson describes his decision to focus on developing Jordan as a leader instead of his talent.  In his roile as leader, Jordan agreed to reduce his scoring percentage in order to allow the team as a whole to develop.  Coach Jackson’s team quote, “No man is an island. No man goes his way alone. What I put into the lives of others will come back into its own.”  By focusing on the team as a whole and instilling the principle of teaching leadership in the team he was able to win eleven national championships.


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Greg Chaney

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By Greg Chaney

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