Are You Filling In The Blanks?

by  Paul LaRue  |  Team Dynamics
Are You Filling In The Blanks?

Do you remember those fill-in-the-blank questions on the tests and quizzes you took in school?

Those questions where we had to fill in the missing word, phrase, or other answer to show that we understood the subject matter.

You realize all along that the teacher had the answer, and they never gave it to you. Why? Because it was your job as a student to study and know the material.

Does this sound in any way like your organization? Are there areas in your workplace that employees struggle with their jobs, because the leaders of the organization simply haven’t given them the answers?

Many workplaces have this culture of gaping holes, or blanks in their organizations. It’s these organizations where the staff tend to fend for themselves. With a lack of support, information, or flow, employee are put in positions to fill in the blanks alone.

There are those in certain leadership camps that do this purposely, to strengthen their people. They claim that if their staff are forced to be resourceful, come up with solutions, and become decision makers, then they have identified the strong employees from the weaker ones. Many also feel that it’s the employees’ job to get the information or resources they need.

The truth and consequences of this attitude, however, is disengagement, loss of productivity overall, and misinformation. When employees are left to fill in the blanks, it’s anything goes.

Does there exist in your company an undercurrent of “that’s your job, you figure it out” or some other fall-back statement that weakly absolves leaders from giving staff the answers they need?

It’s remarkable that the similarity between teachers and leaders continues from here, but it’s the key point that ineffective leaders make. Just as it’s the teacher’s job to make sure her or his students are taught the material so they can pass the class, it is likewise a leader’s responsibility to make sure that each employee has been given everything they need to succeed in their work.

A good leader will work diligently to make sure those blanks are identified and filled in. They see their role not only as a teacher, but as someone who makes sure every system is smooth, communication flows, and processes are thorough. Great leaders work with open eyes and utilize continuous improvement processes and the like to prevent blanks from developing.

Here is a brief checklist to help you start looking for blanks in your organization:


  • Does leadership communicate consistently?
  • Are there rumors or potential for rumors that need to be addressed (such as around budget time or before mergers are announced)?
  • What is the temperature of the team; what do they know, how do they feel?

Training & Job Knowledge

  • Has every staff person been given full training that has not been truncated by time or budget?
  • Do people fully know what is expected of them?
  • Does each and every employee know and have full access to all the tools they need to succeed at their jobs?


  • Are there holes in the schedule that employees are asked to fill, resulting in overtime or additional stress to their current roles?
  • What is leadership doing to temporarily fill those holes with themselves, and permanently have those staffing voids filled?
  • Are there potential gaps in staffing down the road? Are these good gaps due to promotional opportunities, or bad gaps due to attrition?

Work Processes & Systems

  • Do your customers fall through the cracks of processing orders?
  • Is there transparency in the ordering process for customers to know what their order status is in real time?
  • Does any workflow process have an “unwritten rule” for nonstandard situations?

Pass the test that you give, and set your folks and your customers up to succeed by filling in the blanks for your people.

How have you filled in the blanks in your organization? Share your stories with us…
Photo Credit: Morguefile

About The Author

Articles By paul-larue
Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and author of “Leadership LIFT: Take Your Leadership to New Heights”. Paul draws off of his years in senior leadership to pursue his passion – to enable leaders to increase their positive influence in their world. http://upwardsleader.com/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Page Cole  |  17 Apr 2015  |  Reply


BAM! You nailed it! I hate it when I work with people who want to play “guess my mind” games, or knowingly leave big blanks in information or process as a way of later on playing “GOTCHA” with me or my team!

I don’t want to be a leader that leaves mean spirited blanks for people to fill in!

Question… is there value in leaving some blanks, letting people know the blanks are there, and challenging them to fill them, coaching them along the way? I worry about spoon feeding my team, but don’t want to be “that guy” who throws them in the lake and yells, “Sink or swim! It’s on you!”


Paul LaRue  |  17 Apr 2015  |  Reply


I think there is room and circumstances where the blanks can be left unfilled. In training or mentoring modes, or to foster creativity or innovation, there is definitely room to have gaps.

I think the rationale and attitude of why gaps exist are the ultimate tell. If we let people fend for themselves, we do everyone a huge disservice. But a well placed, well though out blank with a purpose of discovering talents within certainly has its place.

Love the question! Enjoy the weekend my friend!!


John E. Smith  |  18 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Paul – interesting post:)

I agree with your basic premise that some leaders/managers seem to play games with knowledge, withholding inappropriately and forcing employees to “figure it out” themselves, rather than work as a functional team.

However, I have also experienced the poorly motivated employee who has little initiative or ability to critically think about and solve problems. People bemoan the lack of good-paying jobs, but sometimes cringe rather than accept the responsibilities which go with the higher pay.

Sometimes a manager withholds information when they should share and sometimes they share when the employee should think it through … neither end of this coninuum is optimal.

This strikes me as yet more evidence that a coaching-focused approach produces the best results. I am talking here about treating the employee as a person who has skills and resources, and who will do well with the appropriate support, then engaging and helping that person think about issues and become self-powered.

Thanks for a thought-provoking post.


Paul LaRue  |  18 Apr 2015  |  Reply

John, I like that you see this from many angles. You’re correct, sometimes the issue rests squarely on the employees hand, and they can create blanks on their own.

Your conclusion is spot on, and a great summary of the overall dynamic that should be striven for.

Have a great weekend John!

Raymond Huan  |  19 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Wow, I need to go over these questions again, and implement them for myself.. Thanks for the article, really informative for me!

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