Leader Skill: Are You Teaching, Telling or Coaching?

Teaching is about you. Coaching is about others, and telling, well telling is about short-term action with limited results. I know this from my 30+ years of leading teams and trying to find long-term sustainable results. There is a time to tell, there’s a time to teach, and there’s a time to coach; it’s important to know the difference and when to use each for maximum effectiveness. I call it the 80-10-10 Plan.

When to Tell (10%)

Actually, 10% is high for this communication style, but it is occasionally necessary. I consider it a style of last resort. Telling someone what to do leverages your title or position and can easily lead to disengaged team members if done too much. This style might be used when urgency is required or in the early stages of delegation when you want someone to take a specific action.

When to Teach (10%)

You might be thinking that 10% is a pretty low weighting for something that sounds so positive, but let me tell you where teaching can lead to lower engagement and poorer results. When you focus on teaching as a leadership communication style you are making the communication about you and what your think or know. Others are resigned to listening (you hope) and then putting your lesson to work in their job. Teachers don’t ask for much input from the student and the student is only required to think about the narrow topic of discussion. Teaching is appropriate when a new process or strategy is being put in place.

When to Coach (80%)

When you become a coaching leader you engage your team members in the process and tap into their knowledge and experience. You invite them to own the challenge being solved and multiply their capabilities by allowing them to think, solve and own.

I’ve noticed that a lot leaders struggle with the leap from teaching to coaching. I get this. Teaching feels good. The leader feels smart and needed. I have started many a coaching call only to find myself half way through the conversation teaching a lesson and not engaging the person I am coaching in the conversation. Coaching can seem slow and time consuming. The magic of coaching is the investment you are making will have enormous returns to you, the team and your business in the form of more engaged and higher skilled teammates.