A colleague was lamenting that her staff members continually turned to her for answers instead of resolving the problem or making decisions on their own. She provided an example of when an employee came to her with a situation and asked what to do about it. I asked her what reply she gave and she told me her response – followed by a silent moment of recognition.

The supervisor had given the employee the answer to the question and it finally dawned on her that it was no wonder people kept coming to her for answers – because she kept providing them! Instead of telling others what to do, a far more effective strategy in this situation is to reply with a question. Asking “What do you think you should do?” would be a good start.

It’s hard to develop independence and autonomous decision-making without practice. While it may be tempting – and likely much easier — in the short run to reply with the answer, you’ll never get out of that dependence loop if you keep doing so. The next time you’re asked a “how” question, utilize the moment to do some coaching instead of answering. Help your employee think through options and prioritize scenarios. Giving them confidence instead of prescribing responses is far better for everyone in the long term.

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