Too often we assume teaching begins and ends in the classroom. But teaching is a job we all must embrace, even after we enter the business world. Great leaders must also be great teachers. Whether you lead a company or a department or a team, teaching must be part of your job.
These are some ways we can all be teachers:
Just as we want teachers to encourage students to explore and push boundaries, we as business leaders should encourage employees to explore new horizons. We must push those we lead not simply to accomplish assigned tasks, but to reach for new ideas.
Promote language study
Even if we have completed formal education, that does not mean we can stop acquiring new skills. Since we as a company embraced English as our official language, everyone at Rakuten has had to study and build their English skills. Even after we have all achieved proficiency, I would still hope we would pursue additional language study. I have often thought about what our next company language should be. Should it be Chinese? Should it be coding, the language of computers? Certainly, we should never assume we are finished with learning languages. It is our job as leaders to continue to promote this kind of learning, even in the midst of our professional lives.
Find a classroom
There are many ways a business leader can participate and support traditional classroom learning. Just this month I was back at Harvard Business School, where I got my MBA, to help teach a case-study based on my company and our process of Englishnization. At Rakuten, we have created the Rakuten IT School – a program offering e-commerce business education for high school students. We hold travelling classes with Rakuten staff, Rakuten Ichiba merchants, and Rakuten Travel accommodation providers serving as lecturers. Students experience all aspects of e-commerce, including the process of selling items on the internet. Our aim is to provide practical classes that teach students the potential of the internet, while also honing their business instincts. It is just another example of how business leaders can seek out classrooms that can benefit from their expertise.
Advocate for education
I have been an advocate for changing the education system in Japan. I would like to see our system rely less on rote memorization and more on nurturing innovative and creative minds. I would like to see our university students encouraged to study abroad and pursue careers that unfold both in Japan and other countries.
Teaching is a process that affects us all and so it must involve us all. We must be willing to teach in our work lives and support the traditional teaching that takes place in classrooms every day. All of us who lead must also be willing to teach.