Lead Like a Montessori Teacher

Imagine a workplace where all leaders respect their people, provide clear and consistent expectations, and encourage employees to be independent, intrinsically motivated critical thinkers. Such a workplace would look a lot like a Montessori school in fact.

I read this post on the 7 phrases Montessori teachers use because my daughter goes to a Montessori afterschool program. Right away my brain shifted from education to corporate leadership.

I wondered how these Montessori questions would work in a company instead of a school?

Extremely well is what I conclude.

I find it delightful that the philosophies of Maria Montessori, an Italian physician and visionary of the early 1900s, are applicable in the 2017 corporate world.

Here’s how Montessori phrases (modified slightly for the world of work) can improve your leadership:

“I saw you working hard”.

Instead of saying “Good job”, we’d say “I noticed how strategic you were about choosing words that would speak to our team on the shop floor”. Instead of a pat on the back, our employees get specific feedback about the behaviours and outcomes we value.

“What do you think about your work?”

When an employee asks what we think of their work, they might be seeking our approval of them. Instead of encouraging them to outsource their approval to us, we’d ask curious questions to encourage them to self-reflect and share what they really think before we weigh in.

“Where could you look for that?”

I have seen leaders self-congratulate for solving an employee’s problem on the spot. This can be the right response in a crisis. Most times, it’s a habit: both learned helplessness by the employee and the leader’s need to feel worthwhile by being smart or in charge. Encouraging the employee to tap into their own resourcefulness can pay dividends in their growth. It can reduce future requests on us too.

“Which part would you like my help with?”

Less effective leaders are unconscious and often in a rush. They forget to slow down and ask questions. Effective leaders find out what will help an employee get through their problem while consciously resisting the urge to be the hero, a role that isn’t sustainable.

“In our company, we…”

This little phrase reminds the team of company rules and desired behaviours. “In our company, we tell our colleagues directly when we are frustrated with something they’ve done. We avoid gossiping to other people and creating drama.” The experiences your team has at your company drive their beliefs about how things get done, the actions they take and ultimately the results they achieve. The most effective leaders intentionally create and manage the company culture instead of being managed by it¹.

“Don’t disturb him; he’s concentrating.”

Most of us do our best thinking when we have a block of time to accomplish an important task. Reactive leaders interrupt their team with their own urgent needs and they don’t protect their team from outside distractions. Strong leaders clarify priorities and protect their time and their employees’ time and concentration to focus on what matters.

“Follow the employee.”

“Following your employee” means remembering that each person is unique with his/her own individual needs, passions and gifts. The most effective leaders observe their people and test their assumptions so they can work with their people instead of against them.

How about sharpening your leadership pencil the Montessori way?



¹ The idea of company experiences driving beliefs, actions and results comes from Change the Culture, Change the Game by Rogers Connors and Tom Smith.


  1. Angelo Pesce on October 11, 2017 at 10:20 am

    Well done Lisa. I really liked the connection between what works best in a business relationship. be in kindergarten or at work. those are solid values that everyone should adhere to.



  2. Khayrie on August 5, 2019 at 5:56 am

    This is a very interesting article to read. Thanks a lot for sharing this.

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