As a manager, what do you do when an employee comes to you with a problem? If your initial instinct is to jump in and solve the problem…don’t.
According to information found on Medium’s Know Your Team Blog , it’s one of the biggest leadership mistakes you can make.
“When you [jump in and try to solve the problem yourself] you’re actually mistaking your roles. You’ve hired this person to solve problems. And if they’re unable to solve the problem, you’ve probably hired the wrong person.”
~ Wade Foster, CEO of Zapier
As the quote above suggests, your role as a manager is isn’t to solve problems but to help others solve problems on their own. “Leadership is stewardship,” says Medium.”It’s navigating your team through treacherous waters, around jagged rocks, to the desired destination, and making sure folks feel nourished and rested along the way.” If you’re rushing around trying to paddle all the oars yourself, you can’t be a good steward.
When your role is confused in this way, your team will never learn how to solve the problem, and they will continue to heavily rely on your expertise—and your final word. What you want, instead, is for your team to stew and thrash a little as they work their way through the puzzle to find a solution.
“When you’re the one thinking through all the problems, you’re teaching your team members to not think for themselves.”
The last thing you want is to have every problem—especially the hard ones—funneled straight through to you. After all, if you’re out of the office for a week or you’re swamped with work, those problems being re-routed to you will have to wait. So, without meaning to, you become the bottleneck and end up training your team to rely on a single mode of dependency.
Good leaders recognize and avoid this pitfall by helping team members think for themselves. How do they do it? By asking questions!
“Ask questions and a team member can come to the answer themselves. Ask questions and the problem they’re facing becomes more lucid, less daunting. Ask questions and your team member might even come up with a better answer than you would have.”
If you want to be a great manager, start asking the following questions before you jump in to solve the problem yourself:
- What do think is the root cause of the problem?
- What options, potential solutions, and other courses of action are you considering?
- What are the pros and cons to each course of action?
- How’d you define success in this scenario?
- What’s the worst possible case/most likely outcome?
- Which part of the issue is the most perplexing, uncertain, and difficult to predict?
- What have you already tried?
- What are your initial thoughts for the path you should take?
- Are there other solutions that aren’t immediately apparent?
- What’s at stake in what you’re proposing?
- Are there easier ways to do what you ‘re suggesting?
- What will happen if you don’t do anything at all?
- Is this an either/or choice, or is there something you’re missing?
- Are there things you might be explaining away too quickly?
As you ask these questions, you’ll probably discover that most employees already have an answer—maybe even several answers—to a particular problem. They simply feel uncomfortable about going forward with it because they’re afraid of getting it wrong.
Asking questions isn’t just to help employees think through the problem more clearly, but also to help them realize that they know more than they think—that they’re more capable than they think—and that they’ve considered the risks far better than they would have thought.
As a leader, your job is not only to help simplify thought process but to give employees confidence in their own thinking, suggests Medium.
As Wade Foster states, “You’re trying to just help them get to that realization that, ‘You know what to do.’” In other words, to be a great manager you should be focused on building the capabilities of your team members.
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