If you don’t know, don’t teach

by | May 3, 2011 | Blog | 1 comment

“Why should anyone be taught by you?”  That question kept popping into my head as I listened to a clinical professor talk about leadership and his new book on values. I’m still thinking about it weeks later.

With apologies to Rob Goffee and Gareth Jones who wrote the best-seller Why Should Anyone Be Led By You?: What It Takes To Be An Authentic Leader, I think more of us should ask this question, whether we’re in a classroom or another setting in which professionals may be practicing outside of their area of specialty.

Call me old-fashioned, but I maintain that experts still play a valid, critical role. In the fields of education, medicine, business, culture, technology, and other walks of life, experts know more than the rest of us. Yes, I know smart mobs are increasing in popularity, and many people look to their peers instead of experts to weigh in on a range of issues and opinions.

However, specialization matters. Experts have deep knowledge, vast experience, and often certification by a professional society or government authority. Auto mechanics should fix my car’s brakes. Dental hygienists should clean my teeth. A CPA should do my business taxes.

This brings me back to the clinical professor of leadership who majored in math, did an MBA with a finance specialty, and became a CPA. After working a number of years in corporate finance, he became a CEO of a major company.

After leaving that role, he has become a professor in the management and strategy program of a prestigious business school —the same school from which he earned his MBA.

As he spoke about values-based leadership, his new book, and his career, I kept listening for data and proof points to support his talk. Nothing. No citing of research studies, other authors, or academic papers. No mention of case studies in his former company, where he had spent almost his entire career. No references of case studies from other companies.

Instead, he gave us his opinions. More opinions. And more opinions. (To his credit, he did call them his opinions.) He also shared many personal experiences.

How ironic! The quant guy in the front of the room was waxing poetically about his career, his opinions, and his personal views on leadership, while the communication professional—yours truly—at the back of the room was craving facts. But then again, I adhere to best-selling author Dan Pink’s adage that there’s a major disconnect between what science knows and what business does. And believe me, there was a gaping gap in that meeting room that night.

Leadership is similar to communication is that many do it and therefore think they know everything about leading and communicating. Being a know-it-all practitioner—even a CEO of a global company—is different though than teaching others, especially in a pricey MBA program.

So what am I going to do about this situation other than express my indignation here? I’m pledging to a personal call to action. (Peer pressure is a powerful tool for accountability, as the highly-credentialed Dr. Theresa Welbourne explains in this post.) I commit to:

  • Find out more about the business school’s use of clinical professors in disparate fields
  • Try to avoid working with any of this professor’s students in case his attitude permeates them
  • Not pursue teaching economics—even though I had enough college credits to have minored in it.

What’s your opinion on this topic?

1 Comment

  1. Mitchell Friedman, EdD

    Liz, thanks for directing me to this article in your post on my blog. There’s a point I’d add: the individual to who you refer needs to learn how to teach. The endless telling of stories/sharing of opinions smacks of a lot if what goes on in classrooms populated by newbies who haven’t received the benefit of any kind of training (whether it’s provided or they seek it out is another matter). Teaching is very learnable; the will is what matters.

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