What’s missing in this classic cliché?

Published on 02.22.2022


This article on the importance of cultivating self-reliance in your employees was originally posted on our LinkedIn page.

“If you give someone a fish, you feed them for a day. If you teach someone to fish, you feed them for a lifetime.”

Maybe you’ve heard this saying before. Maybe you live your life by it?

I think we can all agree that feeding another person is providing for them the bare minimum of existence, and that teaching them self-reliance is an even more valuable skill to have.

The classic cliché holds up. But there’s something important that’s going unstated here.

Something that business leaders would do well to pay attention to.

Where’s the relationship?

The saying focuses so much on the action of giving vs. teaching that it doesn’t leave any space to consider the relationship between you and someone else.

Giving someone something – whether you’re giving them material goods or the self-reliance to better themselves – is always more than an economic relationship. It’s an interpersonal relationship between you and someone else – whether it’s a healthy or unhealthy one; it cannot be avoided.

In other words, teaching someone to grow – “teaching someone to fish” – or move beyond the bare minimum doesn’t just reflect on the person who learns self-reliance. It grows the relationship from one shaped by mere transaction (a paycheck) to an authentic relationship between employer and employee.

But what’s the benefit in “teaching someone to fish?”

What’s vital here: for the employee, an authentic relationship between them and their job or employer leads to more desirable outcomes for both parties.

Employees who are “taught to fish” (learning soft skills outside their specific task that help them grow like leadership, communication, and empathy) don’t just perform better at their assigned jobs.

They improve working conditions in-house by learning to communicate better with others. Conflicts can be resolved early; before reaching an impasse. Goals are met earlier as leadership qualities developed in employees begin to show out and cohesion becomes commonplace.

They help to grow company value by speaking highly and truthfully about it outside of work. If you’re in sales, you know that simple word-of-mouth can make-or-break a company.

Instead of looking for employment elsewhere, they remain in-house, keeping turnover costs & energy down and promoting a dedicated work culture. According to a 2020 Work Institute study, voluntary employee turnover costs U.S. businesses more than $630 billion annually. Often, people who want to leave your company are simply looking for their next fish. Teaching them to fish helps them to see that there’s another way.

If your only concern is making sure your employees are fed at the end of the day, then give them a fish.

But if you want to help your employees to move past their basic needs, and pull your organization up along with it, then teach them to fish.

To learn more, visit winningfeathers.com

What’s missing in this classic cliché?

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