More Teaching, Less Doing (#16–6/8/23)

John Hartley
3 min readJun 8, 2023

No, this isn’t an ad for Home Depot (Less Talking, More Doing), it’s the lesson that I’m finally learning in my career. Not learning per say, but learning to better articulate. It’s taken a while, but “more teaching, less doing” sums up every step of my career and, I imagine, the careers of others moving into leadership roles.

more teaching, less doing, business stock photo style — ar 6:4 — v 5.1 — s 250 (Midjourney)

As an engineer moving into management, I was initially a player/coach, but had to shift my mentality from doing the big, heavy lifts, to teaching others how to complete those while sitting further back and tackling smaller items. Not exactly I would have done them myself, but to the extent of completing the goal as I would expect it to be completed.

As an engineering manager, I wasn’t in control of the code at all, so I had to teach the code skills and thoughts processes that I’d learned in my time with my hands on the keyboard. Teaching how to debug, how to think about architecture, how to think about building the minimum viable product, and how to meet the customer’s needs helped the team hit the expectations that were set at a broader level.

As a manager of managers, my head is further in the clouds. I’ll still spend time at the tactical level, but it is way more hands-off. I work with my managers and leads on what I expect from them and their teams. It’s not about creating a carbon copy of yourself but teaching the foundations that are important to you as a manager and leader and holding your folks to those standards.

Ron Swanson once said “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Don’t teach a man to fish…and feed yourself. He’s a grown man. And fishing’s not that hard.” It’s hard to argue with that from a fishing perspective, but in engineering, there is much more ambiguity and uncertainty. By teaching more, you do less often. Avoid the trap of teaching someone to be like you and instead, teach and coach them to be what fits into your expectations and goals as a group. Teach and coach them on how to become what they want to be. Find opportunities that match up with skillset and desires and go from there.

If I don’t teach others to do the things, they can’t surpass me. Check aaaaand mate. Photo by GR Stocks on Unsplash

If you absolutely can’t fathom being hands-off, think through what taking a vacation looks like. What are the areas you’re concerned would fall apart? What are areas where you wouldn’t be able to understand when you got back? Set up structures that support your individuals and support your team’s broader goals.

Teach them how to see things like you see them, but don’t teach them to be exactly like you. By teaching more and doing less, you give yourself the ability to expand your reach and thinking about the future instead of granularly looking at the present.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know below!

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What I’m Watching: I Think You Should Leave

Season Three of the comedy sketch series is out and I’ve definitely watched it a few times already. It’s not for everyone, but humor-wise it’s right in my Q-zone (watch the show, you’ll understand).

Ronnie’s just here for the zip line.

All three seasons are streaming on Netflix. Definitely curious what percentage of folks reading this will find it enjoyable.

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John Hartley

Engineering leader with a passion for building and growing teams. Writing about leadership and management in the tech industry. Director of Eng @ Curology