Teaching is an honorable and worthwhile pursuit for any professional, including CEOs, and learning should be a life-long endeavor. Kevin Spacey embodies both in a recent interview in Harvard Business Review. He discussed his decade-long tenure as director of the Old Vic theater in London and what he learned from it.
Why would an Oscar-winning actor pause his career to take on this job? He said he wanted to try something different, and it’s clear that he took this role seriously.
He showed the humility needed by CEOs and leaders at all stages by being open to learning new leadership skills. In the interview, he even references Jim Collins’ book “Good to Great” (one of my favorite leadership books) about the importance of taking succession planning seriously as a CEO. One of the best answers he gave, in my opinion, was about teaching and what he learns from it:
“You often work with young actors. What do you teach them?”
Spacey: “It’s incredible to help young people find their own self-esteem and voice and learn collaborative skills. But it’s funny: When you tell them something that’s been passed down to you, some lesson you learned a long time ago, often, in the act of saying it, you think, “Oh, my God. I needed to hear that. It’s really important, and I haven’t been doing it myself.” I recently did a master class with 20 emerging actors over two days, about three and a half hours each day, and there must have been at least a dozen times that happened. I look at these young people and see myself. I know what they’re going through. I understand their desire and ambition and all the questions they have. No matter what happens in my life, no matter what success I achieve, I don’t want to ever be out of touch with that.”
This reminds me of the value I receive from teaching leadership skills to current and aspiring CEOs . I often say that you never really master a subject until you’ve had to explain it to a group of people. I frequently learn more from my students than they do from me. Teaching is also a great way to improve your communication skills and develop relationships with all types of people, including your employees.
Take the time to teach as often as you can. After all, spending time as a coach is one of the highest value roles of a CEO.