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Teach What You know

“Each one, reach one. Each one, teach one. Until all are taught.”

Mark Victor Hansen

“Each One, Teach One” is a proverb that originated in the U.S. during slavery times. Slaves were denied an education so when one slave learned to read or write, it became their duty to teach someone else. The proverb has been adopted over the years and is a useful reminder that we should help others around us. 

The Power of “Each One, Teach One”

We have all been new in a position. Recall that feeling of awkwardness when you were still learning the ropes, attending new employee orientation and taking on a new role. There’s a feeling of temporary incompetence when you’re constantly asking questions, shadowing someone and second-guessing your own decisions.

No matter how well we do in our career, we must recognize that we did not accomplish it alone. Throughout our climb along the career ladder, we’ve all faced obstacles that we could not or did not handle alone. People have provided guidance, insight, advice and recommendations that helped us on our climb to the top. We have a responsibility to teach those who are less experienced than us, since someone once took a chance on us.

Look for small ways to make a difference

Find a way to use your skillset to help others. Help can come in many forms and doesn’t require a formal mentoring agreement. It doesn’t even require a lot of time. It can be as simple as:

  • Helping someone polish their resume
  • Giving someone career advice over a cup of coffee
  • Spending 10 minutes helping a coworker struggling with something you’re good at
  • Giving a coworker advice on their upcoming presentation

You do not need to be a master to help

Often, I hear that people can’t teach a topic because they haven’t mastered it themselves. While that may be the case, there are others, maybe even those immediately around you, who can benefit from the knowledge you have today. Instead of teaching, think of it as sharing what you know. For example, if you have intermediate skills in Excel, help a beginner or someone that has stayed away from Excel by sharing your knowledge to date.

Teaching others builds your own skills

Doing something yourself and teaching it to someone are two different skill sets. By teaching others, you are reinforcing your current abilities and showing others that you care about the collective group. During the process, you also learn some of the gaps in your own knowledge, since teaching something requires a different understanding of a skill than simply doing it.

Pass on the habit of teaching

Don’t stop at just one. Make it a point to teach multiple topics in multiple settings, from a one-on-one session to informal group sessions like a “Lunch and Learn.” With enough practice, this type of behavior tends to spread in an organization, collectively lifting everyone up together through the sharing of ideas and knowledge.


The concept of “Each One, Teach One” is that we must teach others while we are still learning ourselves. It is the mindset of helping others that helps not only someone else, but also helps ourselves and creates a positive culture within an organization.

Learn more about teaching by checking out these articles:

New Tools for New Ways to Teach

Networking from a Place of Service

Five Ways a Manager = Teacher

Fredy Diaz  is part of the GovLoop Featured Contributor program, where we feature articles by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Contributor posts, click here.


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Bre Lou

Such a true but yet sometimes forgotten concept in our busy lives. As I was reading it, I remembered two other common phrases: put yourself in someone else’s shoes and pay it forward. Since we have all been that “new guy” or “new girl” at some point in our careers, we know what it is like to feel out of the loop or even intimidated so if we put ourselves in the new person’s shoes and adopt the proverb of “each one, teach one”, then we are able to pay it forward and continue on the path of positivity. Great article, I enjoyed reading it very much; it was enlightening and serves as a great reminder to how we can easily help others and ourselves at the same time. Thanks

Kaitlin Moller

What I love most about this post is the point you made about not having to be an expert in something in order to teach it. I think sometimes a lot of people put themselves down or think they have no room to teach a certain topic because they aren’t experts, but that isn’t the case. Teaching somebody else a skill you’re not completely well-versed in could allow you both to learn something new, and even boost your confidence in the topic. Excellent insight!