My Best Teachers

If you treat an individual…as if he were what he ought to be and could be, he will become what he ought to be and could be.” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

One of the greatest privileges in life is that of teaching, coaching, mentoring or leading others in any setting or of any age. To do so requires an unusual combination of skills, chief among them are the ability to radiate a certain quality of knowledge or even wisdom and the willingness to be at rest in yourself while occasionally making others feel uncomfortable by your radiant presence.

Looking back, my best teachers were those who made me feel the most uncomfortable, challenged and capable of reaching that which was beyond my reach at the time. Their very presence compelled my finest expression – in thought, word and action – no matter how I was feeling or they were feeling at the time. They were empathetic and understanding without being sympathetic and subject to my limitations, both real and perceived.

Another common denominator to this rare and distinguished group was (and is!) the ability to help me navigate from where I was to where they knew I could be. Just writing this makes me realize that they believed in me more than I believed in myself at certain critical points. This is the very essence of an effective teacher, mentor and leader.

You cannot give what you don’t have and the wonderful thing about teaching, mentoring and leading is that you find yourself face-to-face with yourself as you are presently configured. You realize very quickly what you have and can therefore deliver and what you don’t and must therefore develop in yourself if you are to continue to provide guidance in that area. Luckily those whom you are guiding are typically consumed with their own process to the point that they do not see you addressing your own deficiencies, especially if you do not draw unnecessary attention to your process.

A great teacher will humbly admit that he is continually learning from his students and from the process of teaching and sharing, without losing his authority. A great teacher is, in this sense, a great student first and a great teacher second. Put otherwise, the way a teacher relates to the learning process will tend to condition the way his students relate to the learning process.

It’s a beautiful process when you think about it. It’s not so much the circle of life, where facts and information are recycled from generation to generation, but the spiral of life, where the ongoing revelation of wisdom is encouraged. This is the catalyst that transforms the human experience from history repeating itself to moving from glory unto glory.


13 thoughts on “My Best Teachers

  1. Joshua

    Agreed. The most Beautiful and Blessed process available while present on earth, coupled with our greatest privilege and responsibility.
    A Blessed privilege to be a part of.
    A Beautiful responsibility not to be taken lightly, as there are lives at stake!
    Quite literally.
    Thank-you, for the Glorious provision!


  2. I have appreciated the presenting opportunites I have and your post urges me on to continue to refine my teaching and learning abilities. Even though I have a chance to speak to various groups and new individuals it makes me think that the words of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe do apply to all I am with even if it is for a short time. Invariably I find there are individuals in all of my presentatoins who show evidence of popping their heads up to the things that matter. Things that bring a remembrance of what we ought to be. Thanks for your reminder today as it is a privilege to be a reminder for others.


  3. Ricardo B.

    So important to keep humble in life, to consistently proclaim in your attitudes that you do not know it all and that no matter what and at whatever cost to your pride, you always strive to learn. How could learning ever occur atop a rosy pillow? It can’t, the nature of the unknown is that it affords a challenge, and challenges create friction – yeah, it’s a little uncomfortable but the it need not be amplified by rash judgements of affronts to the ego. Who cares who challenges us either – it’s the challenge that is the blessing to spur our unfoldment.


  4. Vincent

    Inspiration, compulsion and mentoring comes from a steady stream of inspired living, from thousands of little choices made that may or may not be noticed directly. Sometimes such teaching is conscious, and often it occurs without the awareness of the teacher. A great teacher is always “in the flow,” alert to the rhythms of emergence in others and open to just that subtle but perfect word or action, story or illustration. You’ve provided a great little summary of this vital area of shared living!


  5. Chuck R.

    To me the single biggest responsibility and opportunioty that managers and teachers have is to assist in the development of others. The great teachers and managers who I have had the privilege of knowing and learning from had two qualities that over the years have stood out to me.

    The first quality is Expectation. They simply expect those who they are teaching/training to do and become better than they were, whether it be a task, an academic lesson, and/or a quality of character. They expect the best of people, and express it in their own living.

    The second quality is Standards. I have especially seen this quality in great managers and leaders but have noted it in teachers as well. They do not sink to the lowest common level but instead maintain a high standard of integrity.

    Consistently combining these two qualities allows one to both be challenged and to realize an unlimited opportunity for themselves and for others as well. And what a gift that is for all who participate in it!


  6. Colin

    I have had the priviledge of learning from many excellent teachers during my life. Some I knew were great at the time, and some I didn’t know were great until many years later. I hope to be able to give something like that to the people that are looking to learn from me. I hope to always be a lifelong learner, and a lifelong teacher.


  7. Coco

    What a moving description of something that is contiually occurring. Teaching and learning never stop, they are integral to creative progess. A great teacher or mentor can ignite the spark of loving to learn and model the humbleness required to make it a lifelong experience.


  8. Teryl Worster

    This is a great example of leadership that I hope to pattern my life after as well. In raising my daughters or managing my business, to be an example such as you have written about can only create a future filled with more compassionate leaders like yourself. Thanks!


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