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Headline that reads can business leaders learn from teachers over a chalkboard backgroundBy: Sarah Tourville, Founder and CEO
@tourville_sarah

At first glance, teachers and entrepreneurs seem miles apart in terms of philosophy. Mired in a state-run system, teaching the same material year after year—what could these folks possibly have to teach business leaders?

That’s what I thought, too, until I attended my sister-in-law’s retirement party last month. Lucille was a teacher in Florida schools for 45 years, so it’s not unexpected that more than 50 teachers attended the party. What was surprising was the similarities between their discussions and the things successful entrepreneurs focus on.

Mentorship is a great example. At Lucille’s school, teachers are encouraged to seek out multiple mentors. Several partygoers talked about how these relationships helped them shaped their thoughts, provided guidance, and greatly enhanced their teaching skills over the years. Just as importantly, these years-long relationships have knitted this group of teachers together into an incredible community of support and collaboration.

As the head of a small business, I sometimes feel isolated. On occasion, I’m unsure of the best person to seek advice from and, without that, feel I’m overanalyzing things to the point where I don’t always make the best decision. Certainly businesspeople are familiar with the benefits of having a mentor, but listening to these teachers drove home the importance of forming and maintaining those relationships.

Having an end goal is another example. Every teacher I spoke with at the party had a plan for the next stage in their life or a happy retirement. Business end goals are more complex, of course, but it reminded me how critical it is to know where you want your business to be in five or ten years. Perhaps you’re aggressively building it up to sell and sacrificing some personal time to do so. Perhaps work/life balance is key to your happiness over the next few years, so you’re playing a longer game. Whatever choice you make, be sure it’s deliberate rather than a default position.

Make time for fun was a message I heard repeatedly from the teachers. Over the years, they had arranged everything from bowling nights to trips to Disney, and their relationships had clearly benefited. Given the propensity of Millennials to tire of their position and move on, I think this lesson is one business leaders need to take to heart. It’s not about turning your office into a playground, (although I must admit I love our office ping pong table), it’s about spending time outside the office to form true, lasting relationships that make your work-life more enjoyable and create an atmosphere of learning.

Finally, many discussions emphasized paying it forward. For the teachers, this was centered around breast cancer survivors providing support for those more recently diagnosed, but paying it forward can take a multitude of forms in business. It can be as simple as taking the time to have coffee with someone seeking advice on launching or changing their career, or as complex as the work I’ve been doing as a board member of my local United Way. My involvement with them stems from wanting to help pre-teen and teenaged girls gain self-confidence, so I find it a tremendously fulfilling way to pay it forward.

When it comes to philosophy, it turns out that teachers and entrepreneurs aren’t as far apart as I once thought. As Henry Adams said, “A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops.”