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Are You Teaching, Telling, or Coaching?

By Perry Holley | November 1, 2023
Are You Teaching, Telling, or Coaching?

When leading people, there is a time to tell, teach, and coach; it’s essential to know the difference and when to use each to maximum effectiveness. Teaching is about you. Coaching is about others, and telling is about short-term action with limited results. Consider using the 80-10-10 plan.


10% might even be a high estimate, but it is occasionally necessary. This is a communication 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.


You might think that 10% is a pretty low percentage 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 communication about yourself and what you 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 implemented.


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

Many leaders struggle with the leap from teaching to coaching. Teaching feels good. The leader feels smart and needed. I have started many coaching calls only to find myself halfway through the conversation teaching a lesson and not engaging the person I am coaching. Coaching can seem slow and time-consuming. The magic of coaching is that your investment will have enormous returns to you, the team, and your business in the form of more engaged and higher-skilled teammates.


When you are tempted to tell, don’t; instead, ask. Use your skill of curiosity to learn how your team member thinks. Challenge them to consider other ideas by asking for their perspective on how to solve a problem or complete a task. When tempted to teach them how you would do it, instead ask them to describe how they would handle the situation. True coaching leaders don’t prescribe the answer; they describe the challenge and ask their team members to consider ways to solve it.

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