As a supervisor, it is sometimes difficult to know how deeply to probe into the details of a project and when to hold back.

On one of my coaching calls, I was talking with a client about focusing on the bigger picture instead of getting mired down in the specifics that were no longer his job. I suggested that he use an outline approach and consciously track his level of questioning for a week to really get a feel for where he inserted himself into the conversation and what level of questions he most frequently asked:

Level I. Was he asking appropriate big picture questions that tied the project to overall strategy?

Level A. Was he asking high level information about the project?

Level 1. Was he asking about more specific details?

Level a: Or was he asking about minutia?

By keeping track mentally, or even literally making little hash marks for a few days, it will help him get a grasp on whether or not he is spending too much time on Level 1 or Level a questions, thus learning things he does not need to know. A supervisor is best when they can spend the time with staff adding value and connecting work to the raison d’etre rather than duplicating someone else’s job.

I asked my client why he felt it important to know all the details about so many things. “What if I am asked a question about something?” he answered. “What if you said ‘I don’t know, I’ll ask my staff member in charge and get back to you’?” I replied. The world will not end.

It takes time to learn information and if it is knowledge that you aren’t using, I’ll bet you have other uses for that precious commodity. A supervisor should be elevating the conversation, not moving it downward into things that should be the staff’s responsibility. Which direction do most of your questions take the discussion?



About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

Dr. beth triplett is the owner of leadership dots, offering coaching, training and consulting for new supervisors. She also shares daily lessons on her leadershipdots blog. Her work is based on the leadership dots philosophy that change happens through the intentional connecting of small steps in the short term to the big picture in the long term.

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