Teach, don’t preach

Here’s an idea from my new book that will come out in the Fall. It relates to how we can effectively evangelize eco-friendly and socially responsible business practices.

The first rule of evangelism is: Teach, don’t preach.

In the business world you need to use finesse when challenging the status quo or conventional wisdom. Your colleagues will dig in their heels if they think they are being preached at or condemned. I’ve learned this myself personally when one of my good friends recently became a vegan. She preached at me venomously about how immoral it was to eat animal products and how much pain and suffering I was creating every time I had a hamburger. She was so holier-than-thou about it, I often found myself eating more beef and cheese in protest. Had she taken the time to be my teacher, instead of judge and jury, I might have come around to her point of view.

To be a good teacher, you need to take the following steps to connect with others and motivate them into action. First and foremost, be well educated in the subjects you plan to teach. This will give you a depth of knowledge to share and help you answer the tough questions your student will ask you. If you have a burning passion to evangelize sustainability or community projects, for example, make sure that you’ve studied the issues and possess value added knowledge and subject matter expertise.

Second, communicate clearly. Talk in very specific but easy-to-understand terms. Use relatable examples and stay away from jargon, slogans or bromides. Use business centric language to make your initial points. In other words, lead with the business case. Once you’ve established that connection, introduce the social and ethical case and avoid using language that is emotionally charged or accusatory.

Next, be interactive. Great teachers don’t broadcast, spewing out messages in a one-way conversation. They get involved in a conversation. Some of the best teachers ask provocative questions that take the student on a journey to find the truth. Make yourself available for follow up questions or one-on-one mentoring.

Finally, give your students homework. Learning is not intended to be a passive activity. Students must treat your teachings as a starting point and do work on their own to grasp the subject for themselves. Always give your student one item to act one, be it a research assignment or experiment to conduct.