Teach me, Coach me, Tell Me

July 29, 2010

Early in my management career, my bosses' boss Bert taught me about "teach me, coach me, tell me" management.  Bert had been a very successful sales rep but as a rookie sales manager, he was failing. He was struggling to make quota and his team was not happy working for him. He had been an aggressive sales person who used to run over competition using brunt force so his people sensitivity skills were not tuned.  A much older and experienced manager took him aside to explain the "teach me, coach me, tell me" technique and Bert claimed that it saved his management career.

Here is how it works. Bert's claim was that employees only come into their manager's office for three reasons.  The first is that they have a situation or problem that they do not know how to attack so they want to be taught. The second is that they have a situation or problem that they think they know how to solve but want to run their ideas by someone else to get feedback or to brainstorm other alternatives. In other words, they want to be coached. The third reason is time pressure related. They have a problem that needs solving now. They know that you know the answer and they just need you to tell them. They don't have time to be taught or to be coached. If this sounds familiar, this technique bears resemblance to Paul Hersey's and  Ken Blanchard's theories of Situational Management.

Consider how an employee feels in the following situations. You are coming to your manager to be taught. You don't know how to start solving your problem. Your manager misreads why you want their help and they just tell you the answer and ends the conversation. How do you feel?  What have you learned?

What if your manager responds differently and tries to coach you by asking open ended questions like "what do you think?' or "how would you approach the problem?' or "how have you approached this type of problem in the past?".  After a few minutes, you leave the encounter feeling stupid and frustrated because you were there to be taught the basics and were not equipped to answer coaching questions. .

At times, you are under a deadline and rushing to get something urgent done. You need an answer from your boss but they try to use the opportunity to teach or coach you. Meanwhile, all you can hear is the deadline clock ticking away in your head.  After encounters like these, how good do you feel about your manager?

A key to management is to match your management style to the situation and understand why the employee is coming to you for help . So how did Bert recognize why an employee was coming into his office? Simply, he started by asking them, "why are you here?". After time, he got so good at recognizing patterns that it became intuitive to him why the employee was there and how to respond.

I have been using "Teach me, Coach me, Tell me" for 20 years now. Like Bert, I have developed a sixth sense of when to teach, when to coach and when to just tell.

Teach me, Coach me, Tell me.  Try it.


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