How Teaching Helps You Become a Better, More Successful Entrepreneur
When we engage in dialogue with learners, we expose ourselves to unfamiliar viewpoints, which elevates our perception of the world
Teaching and sharing wisdom is deep-rooted in our psyche. From cave paintings to manuscripts and books, one generation passes on knowledge and ideas to the next. We formalized this practice through schools and universities. But learning seems to pause after that.
The medieval trade guilds begged to be different. The learning process went beyond an educational institution and was a journey of practice. One joined a guild as an apprentice, where they would train under a master of a particular field. Then came the journeyman phase, where they would spend many years learning from other masters as they honed their skills. Finally, one became a master. This qualified them to take on apprentices, give back to the field and continue perfecting their practice.
Today, many companies use a mentoring system for skill building. But it seems to fulfill intra-organizational compliance rather than truly foster growth.
How can entrepreneurs rewrite this story? How do we create a talent ecosystem built on learning and growing from strength to strength?
Simple: entrepreneurs should teach.
When we become teachers, we refashion the learning ecosystem from uni-dimensional to cyclical. Those who seek to be a change agent get taught by those already impacting the economy and so on.
But the benefits don’t stop here.
Teaching someone else will help us understand the subject matter better
Our expertise could be anything from writing code to networking. But when we sit down to share our wisdom with another, there are two forces at play. The first is a retrieval practice. It suggests that recalling skills and ideas helps us retain them better. We don’t preach, but we will practice.
We also learn by teaching due to the protégé effect. When we have someone to teach, we learn our subject in detail. We tend to recall it better and share it effectively. When teaching someone, we also realize what we lack and overlook.
Studies show that first-born children have higher IQs and intelligence than their later-born siblings. This is because the first-borns spend a lot of time and effort in teaching the younger siblings.
Entrepreneurs are no strangers to wearing many hats. On an average day, we do everything from HR to PR. It so happens that there’s many a slip between the cup and the lip. These gaps further spur us on a path of improvement. As Simon Sinek points out, “You don't know anything unless you teach it to somebody else. It’s amazing how much we think we know how to do something or that we have competence in something until the job is not just to show it to somebody else but to show it to them in a way they can understand it and do it as well or better than you. Do you know how to ride a bicycle? Yes, I do. Go teach somebody how to do it.” It’s not only the taught that benefits, but the teacher who becomes better at what they do. So, if you hold experience in a particular field, mentor some new entrants.
Inspire others, and support future learners and leaders
In 1980, the Morley family, on a vacation in China, met an eager kid who wanted to practice his English with them. They stayed in touch with him over letters and email, fostering him and even giving him his first taste of an overseas trip.
We all know this kid today as Jack Ma, the owner of the multi-billion dollar company Alibaba. The timely mentoring and support that the Morley family offered influenced young Ma and spurred him on.
We all hold infinite power to inspire future leaders or impact emerging startups. As entrepreneurs, we’re trying to find better solutions for all sorts of problems, design well-loved products, and run respected companies. As teachers, we have a further opportunity to educate, inspire and delight. We can pass on our learnings and experience to mentor people following similar dreams. Whatever the outcome, we made an effort to give back. And as the Olympic creed says, “The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well.” Taught well, in our case.
Teaching builds our brand, skillset and increases our exposure
For entrepreneurs, teaching could be an excellent brand building exercise. We get exposed beyond our industry to reach potential customers, ambassadors or employees. The exposure that teaching can get us is exponential. If we teach on an online platform, the world is our stage. When we take on the role of an educator outside of our day to day responsibilities, we look at our profession from new angles. This opens new avenues like speaking at conferences, writing books on our subject matter or podcasting. It can help us find new ways to position ourselves to the world. Our brand presence expands. And simultaneously we don new roles.
Jan Yager, in her book, The Fast Track Guide to Speaking in Public, outlines why it is important for entrepreneurs to become better public speakers. She says that good speakers always have an upper hand when addressing investors for funding, sharing expertise with others or representing the company at events. So, apart from improving our communication skills, speaking in public can make or break our company.
High level of satisfaction
It is most satisfying to see someone you have taught succeed. Teaching is more than “just a job.” It is a profession that can impact the lives of others in profound ways. We struggle with the everyday problems of running a business. And teaching may be just the cure we need to re-energize ourselves and take heart again for another day’s battle.
Exposure to diversity in thought, background and behaviour
As a teacher, we meet people from different backgrounds and perspectives. When we engage in dialogue with our learners, we expose ourselves to unfamiliar viewpoints. This elevates our perception of the world. It breaks assumptions, recalibrates expectations, and expands thought. This impact could make us a better human being. Or a more articulate teacher. Teaching could reform our offering to create an inclusive product/service.
Entrepreneurs work hard on elevating their product or service to the next best level. But we often forget that things grow better when they grow together. The more we nurture ourselves and those around, the more we create a thriving company.
Fei is the co-founder of NewCampus, a global edtech startup for professionals excited by change. She champions lifelong learning, remote work, adopting an entrepreneurial mindset and having fun. She started her career in management consulting and also worked with Engineers Without Borders. She was recently named Forbes 30 under 30 in education.