Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Selling versus Telling

An old video uploaded by Performance Consultants to the video platform, Vimeo, shows British golfer, Sir John Whitmore, demonstrating the art of coaching (2012). He takes a very questioning approach to his coachees, asking questions, instead of giving instructions. As a result, his coachee is relaxed, has enjoyed themselves, and the questioning has allowed the coachee to be developed at their own pace. As they become aware enough to want to know more, the coach can guide them through careful questioning, allowing the coachee to discover more information.

Coaching has been defined as the "consistent application of integrated professional, interpersonal, and intrapersonal knowledge to improve athletes’ competence, confidence, connection, and character in specific coaching contexts" (Cote & Gilbert, 2009, p. 316). Further, "coaching is an experiential, individualized, [...] development process that builds a [person]'s capability to achieve short and long-term [...] goals (Stern, 2004, p. 154).

However, instruction, or telling, is defined as "a high concern for tasks and a low concern for people and relationships. This is a very directive style. The leader gives explicit directions about how tasks should be accomplished" (Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009, p. 61). 

The video showing Sir John Whitmore's coaching style can be seen in action in the video below (Performance Consultants, 2012):

It is fascinating how pervasive ideas can be, and how ideas can repeat in so many fields. In management, this approach aligns with the 1969 Hersey Blanchard life cycle theory of leadership, where the "telling" approach is similar to instruction, versus a mixture of "selling" and "participating" being similar to coaching (Hersey & Blanchard, 1996). This also ties in nicely with leadership as askers of questions, which you can read more about here (Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009). 

It is interesting to consider how different fields approach things in a different way.



  • Blanchard, K. H., & Hersey, P. (1996). Great ideas revisited. Training & Development, 50(1), 42-48.
  • Côté, J., & Gilbert, W. (2009). An integrative definition of coaching effectiveness and expertise. International Journal of Sports Science & Coaching, 4(3), 307-323. 
  • Daft, R. L. & Pirola-Merlo, A. (2009). The Leadership Experience (1st Asia-Pacific ed.). Cengage. 
  • Performance Consultants. (2012). Sir John Whitmore demonstrates coaching vs. instruction [video]. 
  • Stern, L. R. (2004). Executive coaching: A working definition. Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research, 56(3), 154–162.

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