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.

About the Author leadership dots by dr. beth triplett

I'm the chief connector at leadership dots where I serve as "the string" for individuals and organizations. Like stringing pearls together to make a necklace, "being the string" is an intentional way of thinking and behaving – making linkages between things that otherwise appear random or unconnected – whether that be supervising a staff, completing a dissertation or advancing a project in the workplace. I share daily leadership dots on my blog to provide examples of “the string” in action. I use the string philosophy through coaching, consulting and teaching to help others build capacity in themselves and their organizations. I craft analogies and metaphors that help people comprehend complex topics and understand their role in the system. My favorite work involves helping those new to supervision or newly promoted supervisors build confidence and learn the skills necessary to effectively lead their team.

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