Good business leaders are always learning
A couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail from a teacher from Southview Middle School. She was one of the teachers who are part of Ankeny’s Extended Learning Program (AELP). Mrs. Akers had just finished working on exponential equations with her eighth graders and she wanted to give them a real life application. Her first thought was to have someone teach them about compound interest. Since I have known Mrs. Akers for several years, she thought to call me. I am sure it was not because of my great ability to teach math, but probably because I was one of the only bankers she knew.
If you know Mrs. Akers, then you know you cannot say no to her. However I had reservations about teaching the kids about compound interest, mainly because interest rates are at historical lows and compounding practically nothing still leaves you with just a little more than practically nothing. Instead I offered to teach the kids how to calculate a loan payment. These kids are just a couple of years away from driving, and knowing about loans might be more practical. She agreed and we set up a time when I would go to her classroom.
Then I panicked. I panicked for three reasons. First of all my math skills were rusty at best. I was really lucky because all my kids were good at math and never really asked for or needed my help. Secondly, these kids were smart and motivated, that is why they were in AELP. Finally, and maybe most importantly, I didn’t know how to calculate a loan payment manually. Throughout my 35+ years as a banker, I have always had either a calculator or a computer to do that chore for me. I knew if I studied and practiced a little bit I could get through the math and teaching portions of the day. For the loan payment formula, I turned to a tried and true friend for the answer; Google.
The good news was that I found the answer with relative ease in Google. The bad news was that as I tried to work through the formula, Google recommended that I use a graphing calculator. Graphing calculators were tools that my kids used in their advanced math classes, I didn’t own one. But they also offered an option that could be completed using a “normal” calculator. Fortunately, my son Ben was home from college and walked me through the formula so that I was comfortable enough using the calculator on my smart phone.
As small business owners and managers you might be wondering what my experience with those smart eighth graders has to do with business. Often we are called upon to be experts in many aspects of our business. Often we might not know much about what others might expect from us. My recommendation is to do what I did, research, study and call upon others who can help you understand. We always need to be learning about different aspects of our business, and there is no better way to learn than to prepare to teach others.
In the end my experience with Mrs. Akers class was very good. The students were engaged in the subject matter, asked a lot of good questions and didn’t make me feel like they were smarter than me, even though they probably were. I learned, they learned and I hope they got as much from the experience as I did. It looks like I panicked for no reason after all.
Small Business Today is a bi-weekly feature written by Tom Friedman, Market President of First National Bank, Ankeny.