From the Boardroom to the Classroom: Lessons Learned

| September 7, 2010

After 20 years in business, I recently fulfilled a lifelong dream: I stood in front of an aspiring MBA class and introduced myself as their instructor.  Chills ran down my spine when the first student engaged me as “Professor.”  Immediately following that first sensation, a wave of panic coursed through me as I realized, “I’m no professor; I’m a simple business guy standing up here hoping you won’t see right through me.”  But, as the commercial says, it’s ok to sweat, just don’t let them see you sweating. So, I composed myself and carried on like I’d done this a thousand times.

With my first semester long behind me, I want to share my experience and key lessons learned for those who wish to join the legion of professionals who transition from the boardroom to the classroom.

Lesson 1: Trust your instincts

It is true there are many differences between leading professional teams and students. However, the same skills that resulted in your professional success can guide you through the classroom.  One of my greatest regrets from my first semester was not trusting my instincts which were screaming to me to take a student aside and have a one-on-one discussion.  As a businessperson, I would have immediately taken the person aside to avoid even the most remote risk the issue would amplify.  However, in this new environment, I questioned myself and I allowed a potentially bad situation to fester.  I was concerned that I could alienate or disenfranchise the student. Or, maybe I was just expecting too much. After all, this is my first time and I don’t know what I don’t know.  When I finally did take the student aside, they were so appreciative. I returned home to a beautifully written thank you note.  As is often the case, the issue was a simple miscommunication. With this now cleared, the student flourished and our relationship blossomed.

Lesson 2: Be yourself

My first day of class, I dressed up in nice slacks, a tie, and jacket.  I figured, “I have to ‘look’ like a professor.”  And, if you are a suit and tie person, that’s terrific. But, I am not; I’m a blue jeans and t-shirt guy.  The result was a stiff version of me and an even stiffer classroom.  I’m sure some of this was attributed to normal “day-1” uncertainty.  However, I think a greater part of it was the class taking on the personality of the leader . . . me.  By the third class, I recognized I had to be myself if I wanted to foster a learning environment where the class can be themselves. So, I experimented and loosened up both physically (in my dress and body language) and verbally.  It was like a light switch went on that day; class was electric. For the remainder of the semester, I was just myself and the class response was incredible.  The improvement was quantifiably validated when my final course evaluation scores were markedly higher than my mid-term reviews.

Lesson 3: Have fun

Reading this title, you may be thinking, “of course.” Yet, because I took the opportunity so seriously, I stepped into a classroom putting a lot of pressure on myself: pressure to add value, pressure to prove myself, pressure to impress the students, etc. etc. etc.  Most of all, I wanted to earn at least a second chance. Amid all the worrying, I forgot why I wanted to teach; I love breaking down complex ideas into simple concepts and then re-building them so others can see the patterns in the chaos.  I love the process. I love to teach.  Roughly halfway through the semester, I realized I was enjoying the experience, but I wasn’t allowing myself to have fun.  So, I reconciled the fact that I’m doing my best and it will be what it will be. I allowed myself to have fun. And, I have to tell you, I had a blast. I loved every minute of the second half of the course and, again, my students responded in kind.

In closing, I’d like to leave you with one final message: Education is the key to the future of this amazing country, yet educational budgets continue to get slashed. If you’ve ever considered making the transition from the board room to the classroom, go for it. It is a fabulously rewarding experience, one I would not trade for anything.

Have you ever taught? If so, do you have any stories to share?

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Category: Education

About Marc LeShay: I am a strategic consultant helping people find clarity in chaos View author profile.

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