Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side?

Sage on the Stage or Guide on the Side?

Research and experience show that the personality of a top sales person exhibits a balance of ego drive (a deep inner need for self-gratification) and empathy (an ability to relate to people and act for their benefit). Likewise, in a good leader, we see a balance between a concern for production and a concern for the people (Management Grid, Blake and Mouton).

I am sure you will agree with me that teachers, corporate trainers and facilitators of learning are definitely leaders. We lead our learners through the most joyous of human journeys – Learning! Like Moses leading the Israelites though the desert to the land flowing with milk and honey!

A leader motivates, envisions, inspires, communicates, cajoles, reprimands… so does a teacher. A leader is driven by his ego. Who among us can deny the thrill of self-gratification when we stand in front of a group and lead them? So, why belittle the ‘sage’ in us?

On the other hand, how much of empathy does trainer need to relate to his flock? Does being a ‘guide by the side’ depend upon the kind of learners, the trainer is dealing with? Or are we just donning the role of ‘guide’ only to mollify the egos of learners? What exactly we mean by ‘facilitating’ learning?

It looks like I am a bit partial to the ‘sage’ approach. Well! I am from the land of the ‘gurus’, where a student speaks of his Parents, his God and his Teacher in the same breath, where students respect their teachers for a lifetime for sharing their invaluable knowledge. It is fascinating to read about the wonderful relationship Indians share with their ‘gurus’ (We even have a Teachers Day – September 5 – to commemorate teachers). Enough of that, though…

Coming back to the question of which is the best approach – ‘sage’ or ‘guide’, should we follow a ‘Situational Approach’ and adopt the appropriate ‘avatar’ depending on the situation and the kind of learners? If so, what are the parameters?

I would welcome my colleagues to respond with their knowledge and experience in addressing this dilemma.

Thank you for reading my blog.

RK Prasad


  • RK,
    You pose a very interesting question. I believe that you are saying that we need to capable of being both the sage and the guide. As you illustrate, the balance between ego drive and empathy possessed by high successful sales people,is what makes make them successful. Trainers, consultants, and teachers need to balance providing knowledge, being the guide, and wisdom, being the sage in order to succeed on behalf of the student and to fill the need for personal gratification. As with effective sales, the balance is dependent on the situation, as you point out. Reading the situation is key, and those who are able to do so are highly effective. This is what makes all of these professions both an art and a science.
    Thanks for your posting and insights.

  • Dharmesh Acharya

    Certainly Guide on the Side, the 21st century workforce demand student centre approach to enable the Student’s Vision. The guiding and tutoring is far batter then traditional “Data Transmission”.

    About the Situation learning, sir, I believe that a teacher can start with the Guide form and try to understand the student if they were in requirement of Sage. I think we need a Guidesage format for initial period as the approach will take time to digest by the rural learners and some extend urban. The parameters in Guide format would be the teacher quality and their vision, the student learning style, the infrastructure, mental readiness, and need of some compulsion to use such method. I think with the technology as tool can give this platform to the teachers but we are in need of some affordable but effective technology, e.g. VR, can lead the student and teacher can be Guide in the real format but the technology at present, is really not affordable.

  • Karl DeBiase

    I use a four stage approach to teaching. This is in order to cover the method the student is most comfortable in learning.

    Stage 1 is to discuss the theory and background of what is being taught. It answers the reason why we need to know the material, as well as some concept of what is being taught. I also explain how I will teach. This only works with some students.
    Stage 2. Demonstrate. Show how it is done, for the visual students.
    Stage 3. Have them perform it while I coach. (Guide on the Side). Tactile students.
    Stage 4. They show me. This verifies that they understand and that they are comfortable with the knowledge gained.

    Does this approach make sense to anyone else?

  • Thank you for sharing all your views.

  • As someone involved in both learning strategies and intercultural communication, I think it would be very interesting to explore the difference between the Indian guru and the Western professor. The guru is much more than a “sage on the stage”, partly because there is no stage. But the Western professor is traditionally no more than that. It would even be considered “unfair” and out of place in the Anglo-American traditions to get personally involved in the learning process of students. This probably wasn’t true for the Greeks, as the examples of Socrates and Aristotle demonstrate (Aristotle taught while walking around the grounds with his students). It wasn’t true in the monastic tradition that led to the creation of universities in Europe. And to this day, Oxford and Cambridge remain exceptions by having undergraduates educated through the tutorial system. But the norm in the west is the professor as a broadcaster of authorized knowledge.

    This attitude spills over even into corporate training, where it is clearly inappropriate. Fortunately there are a lot of trainers who accept to buck the model and function more creatively by facilitating learning instead of just broadcasting knowledge.

    But I think we all have a lot to learn about the best practice in different cultures. For example, the guru is expected to transfer spiritual vision and power (darsana or darshan) to the disciple, an idea that few teachers in the west would consider as desirable, let alone doable.

    I believe this is a very diverse group. It would be interesting to compare the viewpoints of different cultures.

  • sandhya

    Sage on the stage or Guide by the side..Ya BY the side..thats what I feel..
    It actually overlaps..A guide on the Stage..thats while facilitating..and A sage by the side!! otherwise..Why not?
    If we get into the core of a sage then a guide hides there and flip it..then a sage hides somewhere within Guide too..The difference if you ask me is hairline…and digging deeper actually makes it disppear…illlusion! A sage cannot be mean..the moment he/she gets the treasure, the first desire is to share it with as many people as possible. Thats the sign of sageship!
    Ego is a superficial layer..and empathy is there within…its only that people dont delve deep into things..
    The more a leader is attached to the vision..and the degree of benefit to the people the vision itself encompasses is all interlinked. People should see meaning in it..ego is such a visible trait..that leaders with ego actually dont make good leaders.Wanting self gratification is such a small thought..A sage’s thoughts are big, due to which he inculcates the quality of a Guide.
    Therefore choosing between the two is actually choosing both in a way.
    Very intelligent way of putting the question I must say!