Managers of People, Teach Them to Fish

Managers of people, it may seem expedient and even helpful to give answers, but to truly be a leader, it’s best to follow that sage advice about teaching them to fish.

One of my clients recently told me about the wake-up call he had when his 10-year-old son accompanied him to work one day.

After observing employee after employee show up at Dad’s doorway, his son asks:

“Is this what you do all day, Dad? Answer questions?”

Dad: “Well, yes.”

Of course you know what’s coming next.

Son: “Why don’t these people have their own answers?”

And the wake-up call commenced.

As a manager, you think this is your job.  Solve the problem.  Answer the question.  To coach employees to solve their own problems seems counter to the role of manager.  It’s absolutely imperative to being a leader.

Notice your resistance

When I work with my manager-clients about shifting away from answer-giving, I hear resistance, which often sounds like:

“It won’t work.”

“They wouldn’t ask me if they knew the answer.”

“It’s easier just to give them the answer.”

These comments are often masking thoughts like these:

“I don’t like to see them struggle with not knowing.”

“I don’t want them to resent me for not giving the answer.”

“I don’t want to fumble.”

Notice your resistance and something else… when you get to the root of it you may be a little too self-focused.  When you indulge this repeatedly you inhibit their development.

Change the dance

If you want to change the dance, and not have people lined up at your door like my client, you are going to have to shift your perspective.  When you own the problem a little too much, it doesn’t allow your employees to grow.  That might feel like you are letting them down, but on the other hand it also telegraphs that you don’t trust their own resourcefulness, creativity, and problem-solving abilities.

What if your discussions with your employees included curiosity, inquiry, checking your assumptions, really listening, and being comfortable that you are making progress, even if you don’t know quite what to do next?  This is coaching and leading, versus just managing and telling.

What do you do to ensure you’re leading your employees to answer their own questions?

Image: by Vittore at BigStockPhoto


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