The Tao of Instructing, Teaching, Coaching & Leading
Here are a few quotes from the Dao De Jing [Tao Te Ching] by Lao Tzu, relevant to effective instruction, teaching, coaching and leadership. These are adapted from the translation of Dwight Goddard and Henri Borel (1919).
Where I’ve put the word “teacher” you can substitute it with “instructor,” “coach,” or “leader.” (Similarly, use “instruct,’ “teach,” “coach” or “lead,” as required). Where I’ve put “student,” replace it with “coachee” (goat cheese?) or “follower” as appropriate.
When great teachers teach, students know little of their existence. Teachers who are less great win the affection and praise of their students. A common teacher is feared by their students, and an unworthy teacher is despised.
When a teacher lacks faith and conviction, you may seek in vain for it among their students.
How carefully a wise teacher chooses their words. They perform deeds, and accumulate merit! With such a teacher the people think they are teaching themselves.
This next bit gives some insight into the benefits of being a teacher and leader who doesn’t “try too hard” while being “in the moment” of doing their work:
(…) Therefore the wise teacher is not conspicuous in their affairs or given to much talking. Though troubles arise they are not irritated. They produce but do not own; they act but claim no merit; they build but do not dwell therein; and because they do not dwell therein they never depart.
“Do not dwell” is great advice for someone in a coaching role — back off and let the learner figure it out for themselves. In this way your guidance will “never depart” — that’s called learning sustainability.
Finally, a bit of general advice on developing empathic listening skills (with heavy echoes of Ben Zoma), which are neccessary for effective instruction and leadership:
The one who knows do not speak; the one who speak do not know. The wise person shuts their mouth and closes their gates.
They soften their sharpness, unravel their tangles, dim their brilliancy, and reckon themselves with the mysterious.
They are inaccessible to favor or hate; they cannot be reached by profit or injury; they cannot be honored or humiliated. Thereby they are honored by all.
True listening — where you really focus on the speaker and have a willingness to test and set aside all of your preconceptions and assumptions — is the exact opposite of what many experts (teachers, coaches, consultants) think they’re supposed to do.
“Sound advice” is the enemy of quiet understanding.