Is it true that those that can do, and those that can’t teach?

George Bernard Shaw famously wrote in his play Man and Superman: “He who can, does; he who cannot, teaches”.

I’m a ‘doer’ – no doubt about it. I’m motivated by getting things ‘done’. Give me a ‘to do’ list or ask me to do something and I’m your man (well woman). I’m not good at delegating (‘if you want something doing well, do it yourself’). I can’t bear to see people stuck for ideas or be indecisive so I’ll jump right on in there with solutions (often too quickly) – every time. Ask me about my plans for the future – I can’t tell you that – don’t you know I have this big to do list which is taking all my time up, I’ll think about the future tomorrow.

However my doing tendencies are completely at odds with the role of Manager I find myself in. Like many managers I’ve ended up in this role because of experience, years of service and the assumption/belief from superiors that because I perform well in a role that I’m qualified to manage others doing that role.

I know I’m not alone – thousands if not millions of managers out there are ‘doers’ – given the choice they will focus on the tasks they need to do and spend little time focusing on the people they’re managing. Perhaps the saying should be ‘Those that can do, can’t teach’.

Teaching (or coaching) is going to require me to learn a lot of new skills. I’m going to need to learn to take time to plan ahead, focus on the future and involve others in my plans. I’m going to need to work on how I provide positive and negative feedback to my team (as opposed to praise or criticism). I’m going to need to fight my instincts and delegate and catch myself before jumping in with solutions or answers. I have to give them space to fail (safely) and be there to pick them up when they do. Most importantly I’m going to need to take the time to take an active interest in my team, listen to what they have to say and find motivation in seeing others get things done well.

Now I know what I need to do, how do I go about it? Maybe if I can create a ‘to do’ list……..

Thanks to Marty Brounstein author of ‘Coaching & Mentoring for Dummies’ for the distinction between do-er managers and coaching managers

One thought on “Is it true that those that can do, and those that can’t teach?

  1. gothandy July 1, 2014 / 1:13 pm


    Nice article. The question I think managers (or senior people in general) at True Clarity need to figure out is when to “do” and when to “teach” and when to “learn”.

    There are times when the customer environment is new to us or in a state of flux, at these points in time then deciding to “do” is good. The wealth of experience and intuitive knowledge that is wrapped up in the brains of the senior folk is invaluable. These tend to be the situations where failure is more likely. At times like this leadership is about stepping up. These are also great learning opportunities. It is hard I know, once the situation has been “made safe”, to know how to step away, to handover to somebody else.

    I wonder how much “management” is important here. I’d like to think at True Clarity we have the opportunity for all to progress and learn from each other. Pretty much without ceilings. Sometimes the student will become the master. I know I’m often humbled by the abilities of people here. Learning is the key. I strongly believe those who are willing to learn will progress further than those who rely on their innate “talents”. Perhaps thinking of ourselves as people who both learn and teach and do, fundamentally as equals is going to make coaching easier.

    Of course the value of people to the business is ultimately measured in the complexity of the challenges they can take on. Our imagination is the only limit on the complexity of the challenges we can find out there. Then little by little, by learning and by doing, we demonstrate to customers they can trust us with the next more interesting challenge. That keeps the whole company moving upwards.


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