One of my clients reminded me this week of an important leadership lesson. Quit answering your subordinate’s questions. I’ve blogged on this before The Problem with being the Chief Problem Solver, yet it bears repeating. My client had one of his managers ask him “what should I do?” Many leaders and managers would immediately provide an answer. It’s fast, painless, and allows you to move on to your own issues. Yet what does that teach? What’s more what does it continue to do?
Answering your subordinates question with an answer simply makes them continue to be dependent upon you. It does nothing to improve their leadership and management capabilities. It fails to increase their confidence level. There’s a quick disconnect you need to make from your ego anytime someone asks you a question. Why are they asking the question? In sales we learn that the reason for the question is more important than the question being asked. It’s important to discover why you are being asked the question to get to the root of their need. The same is true when a subordinate asks you a question. Avoid the desire to answer the question and get the immediate rush of reaffirming your brilliance. Realize that the only way you as a leader succeed is getting your people to perform without you. Most of us forget this. The key to how good a manager and leader you are is how the team performs in your absence.
How is your team ever going to perform well if they constantly rely on you for their answers?
My client immediately turned his manager question into a question, “what would you do?” he asked. When he replied my client didn’t say yes that’s the right thing to do, he simply said, “Okay then, I’ve got things to attend to.” The implication was that he shouldn’t have to approach the owner to ask. He hired him to make decisions because he had confidence in him. It reaffirmed his ability to make decisions on his own without having to get a confirmation.
Your people may make the wrong decision at times, yet how much does that cost you compared to having them be dependent upon you? If you truly want your people in leadership positions to grow, gain confidence and mature into capable leaders, quit answering their questions. Get them to use the knowledge and capability you hired them to use.
My client returned later to this person and another of his manager’s to ensure they got the lesson he intended. He stressed that they were solution managers and anything they brought to me had to state the issue and their solution. He told them that they needed to be prepared to defend their solution although that may not be necessary once he received and understood the situation. He expects them to look for thoughtful solutions to their issues.
One of the values of Strategic Discipline is communication and exchange that occur in the daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual meeting rhythms. Your executive team has the opportunity to watch and learn from their peers. Collective intelligence in weekly meetings provides a platform for communication, exchange of ideas, improved decision making, affirmation of contributions and their expertise. The patterns that emerge through assimilating and absorbing this information increase the management and leadership capabilities.
Confidence is gained through the crucible of adversity, tests on the battlefield. You remove those tests when you answer their questions. Next time, don’t answer their question.