From Classrooms to Boardrooms – Part 2

(This post is a continuation of the series started with Part I, here)

In the first installment of this series, I reinforced the point that we in the corporate world can learn a lot from teachers and what they do every day, which was thrust upon me when I switched from a Fortune 50 management role to a middle school Engineering teacher a few years ago. I learned that adolescents are the ultimate litmus test for communication, and if you can communicate with a pre-teen, you can communicate with anyone!  

In this section, I’ll share the next lesson I learned when jumping into the teaching profession that I wish I’d known as a corporate leader: 

Concept 2: What’s Your “Why”?

On my first day of teaching Robotics class, I got each student to their assigned seat except for one young lady waiting to talk to me.

“I won’t be in here long. I didn’t sign up for Robotics, I wanted to be in choir instead.” This situation wasn’t atypical; there are what seem to be a million schedule changes over the first few days, and even weeks and months, of the year that teachers need to deal with.  

“No problem,” I said. “Maybe just have a seat for today, and who knows, maybe you’ll end up not wanting to change!”

“Um, no, I don’t belong in here. But I’ll sit down for now.”

To her credit, even though she didn’t want to be in that class, she at least listened on that first day and went along with the activities and discussions. I noticed in her lab notebook that she had already started doodling and drawing (which I highly encourage students AND adults to help foster creativity). I asked her if she liked to draw.

“Yeah, it’s what I do for fun…along with singing.” Well played.  

It turns out she loved drawing and art. Not accidentally, I hit one part of my class introduction pretty hard – the “A” in STEAM.  

Most people have heard of STEM classes, with STEM being an acronym for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. While this is a beacon for many students who have felt like their interests are niche and without a focus in schools, it leaves out much of the creativity that goes into Engineering and related careers. Luckily, my school and district taught STEAM instead, with the “A” standing for Art. No product is designed without an artist or industrial designer behind it. I made sure that first day to call out how important Art is to the scientific method and engineering process and how we’d use it in our classes.  

I approached her at the end of class and asked how it went. “OK, I guess. Too bad I won’t be in here long.”

I met her mother that week at Parent Night, and I mentioned that I was trying to “sell” her daughter on my Robotics class. Her mother responded that Robotics is the only class she talks about at home.  

Sure enough, she never transferred out and ended up getting the award for being the top Robotics student in her class. It wasn’t because I “sold” her on it; I found out what motivates her and ensured she could connect that to our activities. Knowing why others do what they do, specifically why you do what you do, is a crucial element in any working relationship.  

Neuroscientists have been studying not just the brain and its function for years, but a more recent focus has been on the science of decision-making and why we do what we do when we do it. Jeff Bloomfield, in his book NeuroSelling™ shares a potentially non-intuitive way that humans make decisions, whether it’s which product to buy, whether to listen to someone else, or what work we may choose to do. The key, Jeff teaches us, is to first connect with the limbic and root parts of the brain to make an emotional connection; then, we can move to the more data-based and analytical neo-cortex, where we recruit information to validate our decisions. Without this initial connection to the emotional and instinctive part of the brain and the subsequent validation by the neo-cortex, our decision never becomes activated.  

According to Jeff, the best way to make that emotional connection is to clarify why you do what you do. In teaching, we would talk to the students about why we became a teacher. We would try to come across as a human, not just their “taskmaster,” and speak to them about THEIR Why. We want them to understand how hard work pays off in grades, which pay off in further education and opportunities, providing them with choices when they’re older.  

Does your team, supervisor, or workgroup know why you have the job you have? Do you work in your industry because of a particular teacher, professor, or mentor from your youth? Was this an opportunity to live in a specific city or provide for your family in the best way? Are you naturally competitive and love “beating the competition?”  

If no one you work with is emotionally connected and invested by knowing your Why, it will be challenging for them to get on board with what you do at work. Influencing will be an uphill battle. Convincing someone to help you out or support your business plan will be a burden. However, once your coworkers know more about your Why, you’ll find they are more likely to help, rally around, and collaborate with you daily.  

Key Concepts: 

  • Know your Why – why do you do what you do?

Actions to Take:

  • Create and write down your Why?  (Need help – check out our Free Braintrust Academy)
  • Communicate your Why to your coworkers
  • Ask them why they do what they do.
  • Final step – Listen to what they tell you.

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