The Wiggly Line Between Professor and Manager

My long business career has included managing a variety of people. My shorter teaching career has included teaching a variety of students.

This summer, as I manage seven students in a classroom and an office, has been a challenging and rewarding experience for me.

When you are a professor, the goal is to manage the knowledge that the students learn and try to help them earn the best grade possible. The focus is on them directly.

As a manager, the goal is to deliver the best result for the business you are working for. While independent development and growth of the individual employee is essential, you have to look out for the greater good of the client and business first sometimes.

But, where are the lines when your employees are also your students? That has shown itself to be a fascinating relationship.

This past week the work continued. We held our usual status meeting, and each member of the team was instructed to come with a detailed update of where each of their projects stood, any obstacles from successful completion of those projects and any help they needed from the team.

During this meeting, a member of the team broke one of my few rules for the summer when they shared that they had delivered a completed project to the client without me seeing it and approving it first. This went from being irritating to infuriating when after the meeting I looked at the work, and it was less than stellar. 

The mistake wasn’t going to cause a stock price to plummet or even a reaction from the client (thankfully), but I am not one for pushing out less than excellent work, and this didn’t fit that criteria.

I worked with the student/employee to make sure things were fixed, and everything worked out fine.

Today, though I needed to sit down and talk through the whole situation with them. The key for me is that we all make mistakes and we are always learning. I want to make sure that they never do this again in and to make them as successful as possible in whatever career path they walk down.

It wasn’t a comfortable meeting. The important ones rarely are. 

In the end, it was worth it and in my heart, I know that this student will make a great employee for their future managers. We laughed as I mentioned to them someday in the future they’d need to have a talk like this with an employee and they’d look back and laugh as they remembered. 

The more I think about, and the more I reflect, this is precisely why Wheaton College puts such an emphasis on experiential learning. Why we push the students beyond the assignments in the classroom and out in the real world where memorizing facts alone does little for your success.

This summer the WiN Team has spent time in the classroom and the trenches learning. Nothing ever goes wholly smooth, and while there have been a few hiccups this summer, there has been nothing that has dampened how proud I am of the team and the work they’ve done.

The line between professor and manager may be a wiggly one, but I’m glad I got to navigate it this summer.