Why Leaders Need a Lesson Plan

Posted 01.24.2023

My son Brad’s girlfriend Renee is a brand new first grade teacher this year. In addition to her commitment to setting little kids off on a strong path for their lives, I’m really impressed by how much thought and effort Renee puts into her work every day. It takes a lot of planning plus improvisational skills to keep a roomful of six-year-olds engaged and learning from 8:30 in the morning to 2:30 in the afternoon. If Renee didn’t walk into her classroom with a solid lesson plan every day, she’d lose the kids’ attention and chaos would reign.

Talking with Renee about her craft got me thinking about the leaders I coach. While they’re not leading six-year-olds, in the emerging new normal of hybrid workplaces and lots of debate about return to the office policies, I’d argue that they need to be developing their own versions of lesson plans if they want their people to be engaged and enthusiastic. Now that most professionals have seen that they can do the content of their work just fine from wherever they have a wi-fi connection, mandating return to the office policies without demonstrating the value add of doing that is a sure way to “lose the room.”

One of the smartest things I heard during the peak of the pandemic was a Harvard Business Review podcast where the guest was a business school professor who’s been an expert on remote working arrangements for over 20 years. Her main point was that if you’re mandating that people come back to the office to do the same exact work on the same exact laptop they were using at the kitchen table, you’re going to lose them. Why would they want to go through the hassle and expense of commuting and leaving the comfort of home just to do the same work in their cubicle? Short answer – they wouldn’t.

There are, however, good reasons to ask people to come back to the office that extend beyond where they complete their work. Something I thought a lot about during the peak of the pandemic was the distinction between content and connection. Thanks to virtual work and meeting technology, we learned that a lot of the content work we never thought we could do remotely we could actually do better that way. For a lot of companies, productivity actually increased during the pandemic. What we learned is a lot harder to do remotely is fostering the connection between people that not only helps them collaborate and innovate, but, as recently highlighted research from the world’s longest study on human happiness demonstrates, provides the opportunities to foster the kinds of relationships that lead to long-term health and well-being.

That’s where leadership lesson plans come in. Here are some questions to consider that can help you come up with plans that keep your folks engaged and doing great work together.

  • When your people come back to the office, what do you want them to do together?
  • Why is the office the best place to do that?
  • What do you want their experience to be?
  • What do you want them to take away from that experience?
  • How do you want them to feel while they’re there?
  • What kinds of connections do you want to foster?
  • What do you need to provide in terms of space, guidance, equipment, support, and your own involvement to successfully execute on your plan?

Does it take more time, creativity and effort to come up with a lesson plan that makes coming to work a great experience for everyone than just telling them where to show up and when? Yes, for sure, but the long-term results will be worth it. Just remember, if Renee can do it for her kids, you can do it for your people.

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