Teach don’t Tell
You have aspired to be a manager since the start of your career. You have been a dedicated student and you have followed directions. Along the way, you have gained the knowledge and the expertise that is necessary for you to continue to advance and to add to your level of responsibility.
You have taken some big steps toward management, but the know-how that you have gained won’t necessarily make you ready to be an effective leader. There are still at least two things that you will need to fully understand in order to be prepared when promotion day arrives.
First, you must realize that the primary change and biggest difference in your job going forward is the addition of the responsibility for others and the fact that you will no longer be assessed solely on your work results, but on the results of those for whom you are now responsible.
Second, if you are now reliant on those for whom you are responsible, you will need to quickly figure out how to put them in the best possible position to succeed. The best way to do that is to understand the difference between teaching and telling.
I occasionally hear people say, “I can’t wait to be the boss so I can tell people what to do.” If that is your perception of what it means to be a manager you are in for a rude awakening.
Knowing how to do your job is very different than knowing how to help someone else know how to do their job. Anybody can tell someone else what to do, but that will not help them understand why they are doing it or what its correlation is to their success.
Let’s start with this premise. Don’t say it if you can’t explain it.
If you have kids, you already know that you can very quickly lose control of a discussion and look like you have no idea what you are talking about the second you use a word or repeat a saying that you cannot clearly explain to your inquisitive child. You must understand what you are talking about if you are going to have any chance of assisting your child to understand what you are talking about.
The same is true when you are working with employees. Most vocations have their own lingo. The police definitely use their own vernacular. Lawyers like to throw a lot of Latin around. In the credit union world, we like to abbreviate. That’s all great and maybe even necessary, at times, but if you are going to talk the talk you better first understand what you are talking about.
Another must in teaching is to understand the “why” behind what you are relating. If your answer to the question of why a procedure is in place is that “it’s just the way we have always done it”, you are likely falling into the trap of telling and not teaching.
By the way, this also applies to your interaction with clients. If you have an unhappy customer on your hands and you find that you are unable to articulate your policy and its application to that person, you are going to be in a very uncomfortable situation.
Your ability to teach will not only help you develop employees and effectively resolve disputes with customers, it also directly correlates to your ability to advance. In a similar way that a student who thoroughly understands the subject matter is much more likely to get an “A” on the test, the employee or manager who demonstrates command of her area of responsibility will likely be the first one considered when a promotional opportunity presents itself.
Conversely, a student who simply repeats what his teacher has said and an employee who merely recites the employee handbook are not likely to be the ones next called upon to lead a collaborative discussion or take on an important assignment.
Telling someone to do something or that a project is due takes very little time at all. Effective teaching, however, can require significant time. Account for that by preparing your employees well in advance of a key deadline or progress measurement. A successful teaching and learning process generally relies on some repetition, a little bit of positive reinforcement, and at least one real life application of the concept or procedure. If you realize this ahead of time and plan accordingly, you will put your employees in position to advance, which will help you to continue your success.
Telling is essentially unilateral and the act of telling someone what to do does not necessarily require an understanding of the situation or even two willing parties because there is no guarantee that the person being told wants to be part of the process.
Teaching is collaborative by its very nature because it requires at least one party to teach and one party to learn. Collaborative efforts lead to a greater understanding of each other and the needs of your organization.
Whether you are already a manager or you aspire to be one, whether you are working with students or co-workers, when you are next given an opportunity to teach, take it. In fact, make it a habit and you will undoubtedly move forward as will those around you.
Chief Executive Officer
Chicago Patrolmen’s Federal Credit Union
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