Tor Dahl is the Founder, President and CEO of Tor Dahl & Associates. He is an economist, consultant, and associate professor in public health at the University of Minnesota. A Fulbright Scholar in Economics, Professor Dahl has published works on health care, economics, management, productivity, and behavioral change
I have not been a student in any school or university where I did not know who the good teachers were. We all did. Good teachers are born good teachers, and if we are lucky enough to be among their students, they will change our lives.I have never been in a company or an organization where I did not know who the good leaders were. Every one knew. It isn’t as if good leaders hide in thewings, or do not display their talents. Good leaders are born good leaders;those who are not, are different.This is not meant as a criticism. Any organization needs both leaders and followers. Too many of either kind is not good for any company.As for leaders, I cannot recall any group that I have been part of where I had not spotted the true leader of the group, and very quickly. The leader is theone whom the others look to for reactions, input and guidance. The leader is the one who decides to continue or close the discussion. Dress, manner of speaking and placement in the room may reveal the leader; so may the placement of the others in the room in regard to the leader. But it is the personal and behavioral qualities that are key in identifying a true leader.
Try this experiment if you don’t believe me: Just listen to the voices of thepeople in the room. How long will it take you to decide who the leader is? Respect, deference, humility, caution – all these qualities are present in the human voice. I think you will know within 15 minutes who the real leader ofthe group is – even in a group of leaders.Leaders come in all varieties, all colors, all ages and all classes. There isusually an aura of self assurance in a leader’s posture, an openness tosuggestion, and a humility that comes from decisions that should not have beenmade. If there is one quality that most characterizes a good leader it isintegrity. A good leader says what he means, and means what he says. A goodleader is trusted, and returns the trust.It is a pleasure and a privilege to be taught by a good teacher.The good teacher is also a good leader in the classroom. Like a CEO, he has avision and a mission to accomplish, and the class must decide if they want togo where the teacher’s vision will take them.
This is the mystery of leadership: How do you achieve the consonance between a teacher’s lines ofsight and the student’s decision to go there? The born leader has a thousandways that could be used, but only some of them will be used in any onesituation. A good teacher reads the class like an open book – he divines thedirections and the forces of the students and sees where the resultant must go.And that will be his chosen path.Is there a more important task than to find those who can teach, and those whocan lead?
The born teacher, and the born leader, are a nation’s greatest gifts.An educated work force that leads the world in its chosen pursuits is thesingle most important asset of any country.Knut Kloster built a great cruise line many years ago: The Norwegian CaribbeanLine. He was the first to envision the mega-sized cruise ships that laterfollowed, approaching the size of floating cities. He was very interested inleadership. He didn’t think that leaders could be made or trained. In fact,he was convinced that they were born. He thought the qualities of futureleadership were visible in children, and that they were honed in thousands ofinitiatives taken over the years.My first university level education took place at the Norwegian UniversitySchool of Economics and Business Administration in Bergen, Norway. There, theschool’s understood mission was to educate the future leaders of Norway.
During my second year I was elected president of the Student Club and for the17th of May, Norway’s Independence Day, I was asked to pick a number ofstudents to participate in varying ceremonies around town. I decided to pickthose who had had at least some experience with leadership tasks. “How many ofyou have been class presidents?” I asked. A surprising number of people raisedtheir hands. I knew I had to add more criteria. “How many of you classpresidents have also been Scout leaders?” Pretty much the same hands came up.I ran upstairs and burst into the office of the Rector of the school, thelegendary Professor Rolf Waaler. “You are admitting scout leaders and classpresidents!” I shouted at him.He laughed. “You have found me out!” He continued, “This is a young school -we have been in existence for only about twenty years. It takes time to puttogether a superb faculty, so we have to make sure that we get superb students.And since our mission is to educate the future leaders of Norway, why not pickfrom among those who already have proven leadership talents?”
For many years the school supplied the CEOs of Norway’s finest companies.Rector Waaler had met the expectations of the founders of the school.There is no law that says good leaders and good teachers must be likable, kind,friendly or personable. I have seen leaders and teachers who were hard tolike, unreasonable, difficult and prickly. But somehow they caused thestudents to perform at their highest levels, they brought companies to globalleadership in many industries, and they made everyone who knew them feelprivileged for having had the experience of being taught by them, or of workingfor them.These are the teachers, and leaders, who changed my life. They are not many innumber, but enormous in influence. Due to them, my world is immensely betterthat it would otherwise have been. Due to them, I have been privileged to livea good life.
This is my message to them:Thank you! It was the best gift I could have received when you became myteachers. And it was the most useful education I could have received in laterlife, when I went to work for leaders like you.I remember my teachers, because when they taught, lightning flared through mymind; for one brilliant moment I was transported by the sudden understandingthey created in me.I remember, too, the leaders who took me to places where I never would havegone by myself.And that is why, when we are asked about those who have transformed our lives,teachers and leaders will always come to mind.And each time I see them again – those who are still here – my day is made.