‘Tell Manager’ vs ‘Sell Manager’

Sandeep Kashyap
5 min readAug 1, 2019


Telling or Selling? What Yields Better?

If you find yourself directing your employees and ‘telling’ them what to do with little or no support, then you are a ‘Tell’ Manager.

Also, if you don’t seek others’ advice while making decisions and believe in dictating the to-do list, then you are at the lowest level of the leadership model. In many companies, employees don’t have any say in project management and are just directed to perform a certain list of tasks.

“I want both of you to..”

“I will decide what to do in the next week.”

“I want it complete till the afternoon at any cost. Figure out what to do all by yourself.”

The teammates with high commitment and low competence require this leadership style. It involves little working of the team members with the project manager. They just follow the instructions given. It is an authoritarian or autocratic approach towards completing projects. There are no discussions, no interaction among the team members. The manager is the speaker and the teammates are the listeners.

What About A Sell Manager

“How can WE do this?”

“What changes we can make for better results?”

“Let us meet together in the evening with different ideas.”

On the contrary, if you work collaboratively with the team to sell your ideas then you are a ‘sell’ manager.

In this, the manager always discusses why a particular decision is being made. Also, in this approach, teammates come with different ideas. They can freely voice their opinion.

If you are a Sell manager, then you need to focus highly on tasks and relationship building with employees. A good manager shouldn’t follow a leadership style only because it works for him/her. Your decision should incline towards your teammates’ personality and behaviour at work.

For example, in ProofHub, we prefer to have an open and collaborative discussion before starting any project. Managers take interest to know what other people have to say. We welcome others’ say and take inputs to carry on the project with more creativity.

Collaborate with your team even when you’re not in the same room. Try ProofHub.

Pioneers of The Leadership Styles

Paul Hersey and Kenneth Blanchard are the two names behind different leadership styles. They have set out definitive leadership style research in their Situational Leadership Model. It includes the total pattern of explicit and implicit actions you perform at the workplace. Four styles in this model are Telling or Directing, Selling or Coaching, Participating or Supporting, and Delegating, of which, Telling and Selling are quite popular leadership styles.

Let’s look at both of these approaches in depth.

Advantages Of Being A ‘Tell’ Manager

  1. This approach enables the manager to make quick decisions saving time on discussions.
  2. It includes no arguments, no difference in opinions.
  3. Only one person (i.e. you) is accountable for the decision.

Disadvantages Of Being A ‘Tell’ Manager

  1. It involves making decisions with a narrow perspective due to the involvement of one person’s opinion.
  2. It might be a flustering experience for the team to follow the instructions all the time.
  3. The expertise of the experienced candidates is not utilized.
  4. Nobody talks about the risks or the issues involved.

Advantages Of Being A ‘Sell’ Manager

  1. Various minds give feedback, ideas, and input which open multiple doors for various opinions.
  2. The selling leadership style encourages team cohesiveness.
  3. It provides support to the team.
  4. Every team member has enough information to understand the bigger picture of the decisions.
  5. The team members are more engaged because they know why the decision is in their best interest.

Disadvantages Of Being A ‘Sell’ Manager

  1. Team discussions sometimes become time-consuming.
  2. Unclear accountability sometimes leads to chaos.
  3. It’s complicated to reach unanimity.

An Example To Differentiate The Two Approaches

Suppose I am a manager who studied the main characteristics of an Agile project to improve the quality of finished projects. There are several aspects that I learned to improve my team. The next day, I instruct my team to increase customer satisfaction and to reduce the time between the planning process to make the project a success.

I start telling the things that I expect my team members to do. Instead of providing acquaintance to the team, I assume that the work would be done as per instructions. These are the traits of a ‘tell’ manager.

On the other hand, as a ‘sell’ manager, I would explain the things and share the knowledge with everyone. Before I set a path for the teammates and ask them to walk on it, I would find a way to teach the learning to them. It is because I want them to share their ideas and their buy-in so that it becomes easy for us to be on the same page.

My next step would be to pose questions and schedule an interactive discussion. It is because one is more likely to buy-in their own ideas longer than others’ ideas. Why? Everybody wants to prove their ideas better than others and want them to work. Then I discuss and explain other things which they haven’t contemplated. Clearly, this approach includes leadership principles while the former is based on management principles.

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What We Understood

‘Tell managers’ rely on positional authority, like to control and have people who work for them. On the contrary, ‘sell managers’ are the leaders who focus on interpersonal influence, work to inspire trust and have a sea of talent who follows them. On the whole, the ball is in your court. You need to pick the best approach for your team members, lead them and reach success zenith.

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Sandeep Kashyap

Internet Entrepreneur, CEO of SDP Labs and Founder of ProofHub