The Difference Between Teaching & Telling

September 29, 2015

2 Minute Read

Teaching is what I live to do as in business leadership position. If I can help people grow who, in turn, help the organization grow, I’ve done my job.

If I give you a list of 5 things to include in a report, I’m telling you. If I ask you what you think the 5 most important things are to include in a report, I’m helping. When you ask follow-up questions about those 5 things, I get the opportunity to teach.

The latter is teaching because I’m asking you to think, versus simply do. Sure, one might argue that telling you what to include could amount to teaching—especially if you “learn” where to find the key elements for the report. Let’s not split hairs, though. Instead, let’s focus on teaching and business leadership. Who would you rather follow: the leader who asks you what you think, or the leader who tells you what to do?

The distinction is pretty significant, isn’t it? However, I sometimes find myself doing instead of directing, telling instead of teaching, and inserting instead of observing. It’s a work in progress. Where do you fall on the continuum? Could you teach more and tell less? Would it improve communication with your peers and subordinates?

Try it sometime: phrase something as a question instead of a direction. Here’s an example:

  • Direction: There’s some new information from our partner. Here are my thoughts; tell our clients.
  • Question: You’re closer to this than me. Did you see the announcement from our partner? What do you think and how do you feel about sharing with clients?

Before I let you go, yes, there are certainly plenty of times that it’s more effective for a leader to tell. So, knowing when to teach is also very important. Try this: take the time to read your next few emails and ask yourself if you’re telling or teaching. Then, if you’re telling, consider whether you have the time to teach. If yes, try teaching. From there, you’re on your way to identifying, even more, teaching moments that can help your team—and company—grow.

Happy teaching, leader!

Steve Krull - CEO/Co-Founder

Steve Krull

As CEO/Co-Founder of BFO, Steve excels in ‘unleadership.’ (his word) Steve believes in collaboration and leading by example; remaining vulnerable and open to new ideas, accepting feedback…and doing good things.