Over the last 12 years, I’ve had the privilege of mentoring many people from different backgrounds. Something I remember emphasizing with them is the difference between teaching and telling.

I teach my mentees this principle:  An ounce of teaching is better than a pound of telling. It’s better to get a little teaching than a whole lot of telling.

What is the difference between teaching and telling?

Telling means you simply feed people with the information they need to do something without them necessarily understanding what they are doing and why. Teaching, on the other hand, means you actually help them understand from first principles what they are about to do, why you want them to do it one way today, how they circumstances are helping shape the course of action you are recommending and how they might act differently if circumstances were different.

There is an old proverb that says, “give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime”

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime

Telling is giving a person a fish which feeds him for just that one time. Whenever they are hungry again, they come back to you for help. When you tell your followers or those you lead what to do, they grow dependent on you and don’t learn to think, act, and solve problems on their own.

Teaching them to do things for themselves helps them for a lifetime. They develop the ability to think independently and solve problems. The lessons you teach them don’t only help them solve the immediate problem but equips them to solve problems for the rest of their lives.

For growth to happen, teaching must happen.

However, there are times when telling should be done. When there is an emergency and there is little or no time, leaders must use telling instead of teaching. Hopefully, the previous teaching would have established the trust that is required to make telling effective in an emergency situation.

Are you a student or mentee? Seek to receive teaching from your leaders and teachers whenever possible. But when you have very limited time and the response is urgent, it is okay to ask them to tell you what to do and then understand later.