Preach, Teach, or Reach?

Times come when we need someone to understand what’s expected of them—in the moment, over a period of time, or over a lifetime. Recognizing that expectations are the foundation of frustration, how can we minimize that emotional kickback when we have to get the point across?

Many of my clients today are middle- and upper-management types with varying degrees of professional competence in their core of direct reports. And life gets easier for them when they can simply “delegate” what they believe “should” be delegable. Note the “should” before “be delegable”…. It’s an expectation derived from the Knower/Judger persona.

I recently delivered a series of coaching sessions on the “myth of delegating.” It’s a myth when we think we can delegate a task but end up giving our direct report a  lesser degree of autonomy while “directing”, “coaching”, or “supporting” them—in other words, not quite reaching real “delegation.”

My premise is that what stands in the way of true delegation—aside from having to jump in and direct, coach, or support—is a disconnect between what the manager believes he wants and what the direct report is skilled enough and actually wants to do.

So how do we get the direct report to the place where projects can be delegated successfully? I think we have three possibilities:

The most basic and probably most used approach is to preach at them. We can tell them what’s expected, show them what to do, and tell them we’ll return within some time for the completed project. Why is this method so popular? Because we can most quickly get back to our own responsibilities. “Tote that barge. Lift that bale. Use the ABC method to find the values needed.” In other words, preaching is just telling them how to do it.

You know what I hear most from managers who interact that way? “I’ve told them that 100 times!” Sound familiar?

What’s going on when “preaching” is the method? The preacher’s K/J is interacting with the direct report’s K/J. Remember me saying that “no learning takes place in the K/J?” Bingo! They might learn the first time, but they may be so defensive about their position in this interaction that the likelihood of anything sticking is poor. I’ve seen corporate students, who were trained that way, get “zeroes” on evaluations once they got into the field.

When does preaching make sense? When you absolutely have to get it there overnight (to steal FedEx’s marketing phrase); in other words, when actual downstream change in the direct report’s ability isn’t as important as taking care of the client… or the baby must be stopped before reaching the hot burner. Make sense?

So if I can keep myself from preaching, how do I get the most from my relationships with my direct reports?

I would start by replacing preaching with teaching. The difference? The student gets involved in recognizing his own ahas. He’s not listening to a talking head, feeling under pressure and only wanting to do what his manager needs NOW; he’s interacting with that manager to the point where he’s required to develop his own answers to arrive at a mutually agreeable result.

What’s the problem with teaching? It probably takes more time and patience and personal investment on the part of the manager than preaching. Where does the manager want to invest his time? Repeating the same lesson over and over again when it has proven not to produce measurable change? Or up front in the process, where incremental productivity can be measured? “Pay me now or pay me later,” as the Fram oil filter guy used to say.

We could stop right here and make a world of difference in how teams make cultural differences in their delegation models by choosing when to preach and when to teach. And making a decision to teach more than preach because you want the results of better-trained direct reports, more successful delegations, and increased team productivity is further enhanced by a third methodology: Reaching.

Preaching and teaching are situational methods—cookbook exercises—that get the problem solved. Preaching gets it done. Teaching gets it done with an improved chance of not having to preach it or teach it again.

Reaching begins long before a preaching moment or a teaching exercise is engaged. Reaching includes creating an environment where teaching becomes the standard operating procedure. Both manager and direct report clearly head toward teaching at every opportunity… automatically.

It is the state of interaction where both party’s Learner/Researcher connect. Neither is the student and neither is the teacher. Neither is invested in their K/J rules to the point where the other’s statements or questions become frustrating. Neither has an expectation, and both have aspirations. I know that sounds like a conundrum; let me explain. I don’t have an expectation of the moment’s interaction, but I have an aspiration of our long-term success, and we’re both working at staying at this mutual L/R connection in order to not go to the “frustrated by unmet expectations” level.

In my experience, this requires the manager, the delegator, to choose to stay out of his or her K/J persona. We have found that when a leader stays out of his personal rule book (i.e., in the K/J), those around him refrain from comparing their rules against his or hers, and continuous open bi-directional exchanges can thrive. Open that rule book (i.e., into the K/J) and the direct report begins to compare, judge, and protect his own rules (K/J). At that point it’s a K/J to K/J conversation, and the benefits of the L/R connection are lost.

This type of relationship allows the direct report to comfortably explore responsibilities and duties with his manager without risk before the delegation even happens. It permits the direct report to ask, unsolicited, for the task, because they already understand what’s needed.

Preach or teach? They both have their place and time in a team where tasks and projects are distributed. If the relationship with the direct report is nurtured and developed through an environment of reaching, where connections are preferred and supported between each team members’ L/R states, then I believe teaching can become the go-to methodology. If parties choose to remain in their K/J states, then it’s harder to execute a “teach” over a “preach.” Make sense?

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