Can You Finish This Sentence: “…Teach a Man to Fish, He…”? I Betcha Can’t…

“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he…”

Do you know the next line?

The way I learned it, it goes: “Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for aFish lifetime.” But that’s wrong.

The way it really goes is, “Give a man a fish, he’ll wonder what’s wrong that you’re giving away the fish. Teach a man to fish, he’ll laugh at you and sneer, “What do I look like, a schmuck? *I* know how to fish. My problem is just I don’t have any fish.” Tell a man he’s a great fisherman and the problem is with the pole/lure/boat/bait he’s using, then tell him the guys giving stuff away and teaching stuff are frauds, then charge him a bunch of money for the pole/lure/boat/bait you’re selling, and he’ll be your friend forever.”

You need to know this corrected version, it’s critically important. Because when you try to develop someone in your organization, unless they’re ready for it or asking for it, this is what you’re up against. Here’s how the fishing metaphor translates into organizational development speak:

  • Offer to help someone with a tough situation (give him a fish), he’ll tell you to MYOB.
  • Offer to mentor someone (teach him to fish), he’ll get mad at you for not using your skills to just handle the situation for him already. Sheesh!
  • Suggest someone buy your 1-2-3 methodology for handling the exact situation they’re facing later today, certify them in your process and tell them not to trust anyone giving anything away, especially including knowledge (sell a man a fish), and they’ll gladly pay you.

Like I said, this doesn’t apply to everyone; some people are true learners. These people are rare and to be treasured. You know this, because you probably recognize a bit of yourself in the true learner—the person able to see past the BS—and so you have an easy time spotting it in others.

Which reminds me: if you find yourself telling someone else to mind their own business, or if you’re mad at your manager for not just stepping in to solve your problem, if you go into someone’s office and demand their help rather than ask them probing questions to see what you can learn from them, if you read all the latest 1-2-3 methodologies and swear by them because they make it so you don’t have to think…

…see where I’m going with this last part?

Leadership development starts with being open to learning. We all think we do it… but when push comes to shove, not so much. So the next time you think about that fishing metaphor, rather than cast yourself in the role of the giver of fish and wisdom, cast yourself in the role of receiver, and make sure you’re open to receiving the right stuff.

You need to want to learn to fish. Then the teacher will appear—from right in front of you, as if out of a computer-generated 3-D image—and will teach you everything you need to know.

FOT Background Check

Jason Seiden is a career consultant for professionals and managers ( He wrote the best dang career book ever (just ask him), called How to Self-Destruct: Making the Least of What's Left of Your Career, and is a master facilitator of the cranial extraction method of on-the-job performance improvement. And yes, even though we value the intrinsic worth of his writing, we pay him per post. That makes us part of the problem..


  1. Joe Rice says:

    Interesting thoughts but you still have the phrase wrong. The correct ending is: “Teach a man to fish and he will sit on a dock and drink beer all day.” I need to learn how to fish!

  2. Dude! Spot on piece ~ nice job.

  3. Bohdan says:

    True. Next question becomes, how do you help people be the one to say “I’ll gladly take that fish, thank you. Now, could you teach me how I can do that in the future?” ?

  4. Wally Bock says:

    Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best independent business blog posts of the week in my Three Star Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.
    Wally Bock

  5. Jaws says:

    I prefer hunting to fishing and believe that HUNTERS may be more inclined in our cutthroat world of greed, corruption, pilfering, madoffing, bailouting, etc..
    I remember a sales leader that used to discuss HUNTERS (go kill) and GATHERERS (here fishy fishy). The guy was full of s$%t and a very bad model for building relationships and conducting business with some level of integrity. With that said, the model of hunters and gatherers applies to sourcing new business, or a new job for that matter. So I say, teach them to hunt, instead of sitting on the dock and drinking beer.
    Read Dropping Almonds by Bach Anon and feel the frustration of executive leadership at the top of an organization…you may be pleasantly surprised.

  6. Great Thought Jason for Fishing Trainers…Unless someone is ready to buy…you can’t your job is to make someone ready to buy and your Fisherman Formula Rocks…
    The same goes with rewards to….

  7. Set your own life time easier get the credit loans and everything you need.

  8. Elizabeth Kautzmann says:

    These people are rare and to be treasured. You know this, because you probably recognize a bit of yourself in the true learner—the person able to see past the BS—and so you have an easy time spotting it in others.

    Personality Studies estimate the (GREEN) profile described above represents only 5% of the population, and at any given time only 1% of the 5% modeled are female.

    SO WHAT?
    Innovation is inspired & it is rare (up until now-age of deliberate thought & deliberate action) so let’s encourage people from all personalities~then recognize & celebrate each other…knowing someday they’ll ‘catch’ on …or no one’s gonna fish…


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