Book Me For A Speech

My Writing and Ranting

Press Room

Good Books

« Craig Ferguson's Intriguing Joke: Does Every Group Have at Least One Asshole? | Main | Forgive Yourself for Past Procrastination: You Will Perform Better Next Time »


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Landon Creasy

Hi Bob,
Great post - seems to have driven some discussion. My two cents? I see this as the point where emotional intelligence meets leadership. Interestingly enough, IQ is not the best predictor of effectiveness in life; instead, EQ is what appears to matter. The good news is that you can learn to be emotionally intelligent. Good leaders move in this direction, resulting in empathy, humility and interpersonal skills.

Landon Creasy


John's description of being a teacher by understanding where the learner is coming from is, in my opinion, on target -- but it must come with a very high degree of empathy, sincerity and openness. Unfortunately, the notion of leader as teacher has its shadows. One is believing that you actually know "where the learner is coming from," and then end up operating more from a set of your own presumptions and projections than genuine connection or insight. This can have a very real effect on people who sense they are "being taught," and who feel trapped and constrained. Who's to contradict the CEO's desire to "teach" something after all, especially if it seems to be a personal need?

And yet, it isn't all that clear really. You might be a "teacher" with a blind spot or an amazing teacher and mentor to others. How to tell one from the other? Ask for feedback, and let it in. In effect, let others teach you. Then I think you are in good stead, and won't have to wonder about whether "leader as empathic teacher" is too idealistic because you will have reversed the formula and become "leader as empathic learner."

Ron Gentile

Great post and good topic. I like Sam's model. However, I don't think it works in all situations. Is the company a startup or a slow-growing organization? Does a particular employee respond best to being taught or challenged?

In the end it would seem one needs a metric for what a boss should accomplish. E.g. to get the most productivity from his staff over the long run. Some people will need one thing; others will need something else. Being able to sense and balance these differences is an attribute of a great boss.


This is going to sound a bit like nitpicking. You offer us a choice between two mindsets, which can be correlated with answers to the question “Why am I doing this?":

(1) I am doing this because I am on an ego trip and trying to get more goodies and glory for myself.

(2) I am doing this because it is really the best thing for enhancing my people’s collective performance and humanity.

Notice that (1) goes to motive while (2) goes to results. Another way of putting it, the reason "I am doing this" in (1) is a property of the leader ("I am on an ego trip") while in (2) it is a property of the action ("it is really the best thing").

If we made these two answers more symmetrical they would not suggest such a simple either/or.

"Why am I doing this"?

(1) Because I'm on a ego trip and it's the best thing for me.

(2) Because I think it's the best thing to do.

Once we make this clear, it also becomes clear that this difference in leadership styles focuses on the leader's *intentions* over his or her results. And we know where the road paved with the former leads.

It takes a pretty major ego (not necessarily an asshole) to believe s/he knows what's best for others (or simply "really the best thing"). So I'm not sure that a leader that assumes that all is well so long as s/he's not on an ego trip and therefore continuously keeps his/her ego in check by asking those questions, will be a good boss.

I sometimes think a good boss is someone who is less worried about being a good boss and more worried about whether I (the employee) is doing a good job.

Joe Marchese

I like the mindset, and can see how it makes an impact.

I have occasionally seen myself in the role of host, making sure that I was of service to those in the organization. It serves to reinforce that one of my fundamental responsibilities is to create the conditions of success for all the in the organization. I think the distinction of 'teacher' adds a new element... thanx, John (and to Bob for pointing it out... I'll treat scraps with more respect!).

Michael McKinney

Thanks for sharing this Bob and John.

Idealistic? Perhaps. But I would agree it is something we should always strive for. Unfortunately, for many people, teaching means me smart and you dumb. By contrast, as it was described here, it is a learning experience for both. It helps the “learner” and it teaches the leader as well. It serves to keep the leader in touch with those in the “trenches” and helps those in the trenches to better understand there role in the overall picture. Unless a leader has specific expertise to contribute, I don’t think the kind of teaching we are talking about here is of that nature. It reminds me of something Lance Secretan once wrote:

“The principle purpose of the leader is to act as the main source of inspiration, personal development, support, and guidance for the principle customers of the leader—those who are followers. Otherwise, the role of the leader becomes superfluous since most of the followers know more about their work, goals, technologies, desired outcomes, and professional expertise than anyone who may be leading them.”

BTW,we need leaders who have seen it done incorrectly and know the pitfalls to step and lead. They are better able (more convicted?) to blaze a trail for others to follow.

Elad Sherf

I love this approach. In fact, I just wrote a post about inspired by Edgar Schine new book about helping.
If we just adopt an attitude of helping. all of us, not just managers, work will be such a better place. Thanks for sharing this with us. If this is the scarps, the book will be really great!

Bret Simmons

Love it, Bob. Great example of a purposeful leader. I'm betting that he learned this behavior and posture as a follower. Doubt he morphed into this kind of leader once he got to the top. He was probably a very purposeful follower. Thanks for sharing. Bret

John Lilly

Hi Bob -- Thanks for redacting my name, but it's fine to have my name on the quotes. Important to emphasize that I think acting this way is the ideal. I fall short a lot, as does everyone, I'd imagine. But it's the way I try to be, and it's the way that I like to be treated by others.

Dances With Books

Definitely too idealistic. Once they get to the higher levels of administration, and they lose touch with the trenches, bosses are not really helping. They are hindering the good work the rest of us do to serve our communities. Administration (at least in the education field, and I will let you ponder the irony of that) is basically a way to advance (maybe get an extra bit in your paycheck). But actually helping those under you? Very rarely. It is a big reason I refuse to become an administrator. I just do not want to be ruined into someone worried more about assessments, statistics, reports, and the eternal ROI than his workers and the work we are all supposed to do in the first place.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

Asshole Survival

Scaling Up

Good Boss Bad Boss

No Asshole Rule

Hard Facts

Weird Ideas

Knowing -Doing Gap

The No Asshole Rule:Articles and Stories