4 Things Any Startup Executive Can Learn from a Teacher

4 min read
Opinions expressed by contributors are their own. If there is one thing every entrepreneur should know, it’s that education is at the core of every successful business. As a former teacher turned tutoring business owner, I know this first hand. Although I never imagined I’d become a startup executive, I’ve realized that my years spent studying the science of learning–along with a whole lot of hustle along the way–set me up to build a business successfully. Here are four things every new business owner can learn from a teacher.

Teaching and learning are all about planning. From building a timeline for when and how to introduce new skills to creating materials to communicate concepts and assess understanding clearly, teachers live and breathe plans. Now, as an entrepreneur, organizational systems are the backbone of everything I do. By using to-do lists for daily tasks, and a suite of resources to manage larger projects and deadlines, I can learn more about how and when I do my best work and understand my business’s operational strengths and challenges. In this way, I can be better positioned to set more realistic, actionable, and meaningful goals for allocating my precious time and resources most effectively.

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Just as I prepared lessons with my student in mind when I was in the classroom, I recognize that to make smart business decisions, I need to share ideas in a meaningful way and get feedback from my community. That is why I try to be mindful of the channels of communication I use, consider the noise that might get in the way, and strive to be an active listener. When I do so, I gain meaningful insight into what the community loves about the work we’re doing and figure out where we can do better. Plus, if and when something goes wrong (which it will!), my proactive communication and the relationships it creates will help me solve those problems more smoothly.

Within a school, things rarely go according to plan. Teaching forced me to learn to think on my toes and always search for alternative solutions. Business is no different. I consistently strive to consider our product and services from other perspectives to build solutions with a wide range of users in mind. And I know that no matter how much or how well I plan, nothing ever goes quite as expected; predictions are off, things go wrong, or curveballs come out of nowhere (hello COVID-19). But with an organized business and a plan for communicating, my cognitive flexibility enables me to adapt more easily to the unexpected.

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It’s also worth noting that mistakes will happen no matter how organized, communicative, and flexible I am. That’s not a bad thing; it’s just life. However, embracing those mistakes and understanding that they are simply information for learning is a pivotal quality for anyone, especially for an entrepreneur. It is at the core of what Carol Dweck calls a “growth mindset” – the belief that effort is what leads to success, and the inevitable obstacles I face are opportunities for learning to do better. This is what I told my students as they took on challenges in the classroom, and it is the motto I live by as I build my business.

As entrepreneurs, we build new products and tackle problems differently because we see potential and a path to create a unique solution. That is a messy process by nature, and embracing those challenges and the opportunities for learning that they create is the only way to push through the many hurdles that are sure to be in our path. The good news is that we are all also natural-born learners. Our brains thrive on overcoming challenges through learning. Accordingly, the more intentional we can be about learning from each of the endless hurdles we face in building a business, the more successfully we can bring our vision to life.

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