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

jasonseiden Jason Seiden, Leadership

“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.