To Give or to Teach? A Lesson in Awareness - PI Midlantic

To Give or to Teach? A Lesson in Awareness

How many of us recall this Chinese proverb: “Give a person a fish and they will eat for a day. Teach a person how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime”.  How often do you see managers/leaders lean into the former? They seem to be wired to fix things, shelling out answers to get things moving forward.

Sometimes we hear them say things like “I’m too busy, so fixing is faster,” “It’s not the best use of my time,” “I’m more of a teller not a listener.” The focus seems to be on accomplishing tasks and hitting deadlines rather than on team/individual growth and development. Intentional or not, these leaders create an environment of dependency, limiting growth, development, and empowerment.  When asked where they would rather spend their time, it’s often in a value-adding or strategic capacity.  Yet, they find themselves too busy and/or working too many hours in order to allocate time to where it has the greatest impact.

What if managers/leaders leaned into the latter part of the proverb, “Teach a person how to fish and you feed them for a lifetime?” What could that look like? Those familiar with the Situational Leadership Model, created by Paul Hersey and Ken Blanchard, understand that the optimal leadership approach aligns with the needs of the organization and its co-workers. This requires managers/leaders to change their approach depending on the circumstances.  Sounds pretty straight forward, right?  Well, not exactly.  The first step in understanding your team is to understand yourself.  Self-awareness provides us insights into our values, passion, drives, motivations, thoughts, feelings, behaviors, strengths, blindspots, etc.  Another important benefit of self-awareness is that you begin to better understand the impact you have on those around you. Tools like the Predictive Index Personal Development Chart deliver information on both a personal and managerial level, shedding light on strengths and blindspots. With evidence in hand, development tools, and a solid grasp of awareness, what’s next?

Before you teach a person how to fish, you have to understand the type of fish they are trying to catch.  Now it’s time to explore listening skills.  Below is a slightly modified version of Carol Wilson’s Levels of Listening that allow managers/leaders to be self-aware of their level of listening engagement:

Level 1: The Interrupter – Not listening, checked-out and on to another topic.

Level 2: The Hijacker – Who steers the conversation towards their own experiences.

Level 3: The Advisor – Provides advice and information without exploring the situation.

Level 4: The Observer – Picks up on eye movement, the choice of words, body language, tone, speed and asks, “for more”.

Level 5: The Active Listener – In addition to the Level 4 characteristics, they utilize their intuition, ask open ended questions, and hold awkward silence. This creates a space for self-reflection, self- awareness, realization, and opportunities.

A scenario arrives where we have the right situation to teach a person to fish.  Below are four different examples of how to tap into your self-awareness:

  1. You are aware that your natural tendency is to be directive and controlling. Therefore, you consciously make the decision to allow this person to share their ideas. You intentionally take the time to think before you speak.  You choose to be the Active Listener and not the Advisor.  It may take more effort than what comes naturally- “just do it my way”, but you just invested time that will pay dividends well into the future.  In the long-term, you have begun the process to eliminate the dependency and allow this person to grow and develop.
  2. Through your own self-awareness, you realize you can be seen as super talkative, and others may perceive that you like being the center of attention. You consciously make the decision to allow this person to be the talker and you take the back seat.  It may take more energy not to interject with your stories or speak about the details of your experiences, so you move from the Hijacker to the Active Listener.  Again, you are investing in a process that will provide a tangible ROI in your own time management going forward.
  3. You have a constant “need for speed” and you want things addressed right away. So, you consciously make the effort and close your email and turn off your notifications to focus on the person in front of you. It takes effort, yet you recognize that this person may process and act at a slower pace than you.  You choose to be the Active Listener and not the Interrupter.  Once more, continuing the process to eliminate the dependency to create growth and development.
  4. Your natural tendency is to gather all the facts and you are often inflexible on how things are done. “By the time I show you, it’s already done”. Now you consciously decide to stretch, you set aside the time and allow the person some flexibility to find their way with your guidance.  You become the Active Listener, using your intuition and open-ended questions to create space for realization and opportunities.  Once again, you are investing in the short-term to create long-term gains.

Self-awareness of your own values, passion, drives, motivations, behaviors, strengths, blindspots, etc. and the same awareness of those around you is one of the keys to successful leadership. Utilizing Situational Leadership models, consciously deciding how to listen, and investing the time in the short-term allows managers/leaders to invest more of their time strategically or wherever it has the most impact in the long-term.  Taking the time to understand yourself and those around you will lead to the best way to engage your co-workers.  In turn, leading to growth for your business and your people.

Imagine how eliminating an environment of dependency, while enabling growth and development could support creating a more robust succession bench. At the same time, reducing turnover and increasing engagement.

Ensure your co-workers are in the right roles, feed their strengths and motivational drives, and they in turn take care of each other and their customers.  Resulting in both internal and external growth; along with a healthier bottom line.


Author: Alan Scholnick

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