When do you ‘Ask’ versus ‘tell’?
Do you have to develop leaders in your current role? For me this question is almost redundant, the “yes” is so obvious (regardless of the position you hold). The question becomes how. Each year companies in the United States cumulatively spend billions of dollars training and equipping their employees. Certainly training is one possible right answer. What happens if you are so far into the hamster wheel of busyness that you cannot imagine sending your employees off to a training class?
What can you do then?Are there other answers?
Here is a different perspective that might help you. What would happen if you made a slight mental shift in the way you thought about your employees? Seriously a ‘slight‘ shift?
I challenge you to attempt an experiment on this. Take one of your more competent employees and the next time they come to you to solve a problem for them, change your approach.
Shift your mindset such that you look at this interaction as an opportunity to develop their skills.
Instead of listening half heartedly to their problem, listen carefully. Then instead of ‘telling’ them how to fix the problem I want you to do something radically different. ‘Ask’ them how they think they should solve the problem. if they come up with something that remotely sounds like it will work don’t ‘tell’ them how to make their idea better, ‘ask’ them if there is any downside risk to their solution. If there clearly is a downside risk and they can’t think of it, don’t ‘tell’ them what it is, rather ‘ask’ them how they could figure the potential risk out.
Caution: This approach has the potential to make you impatient and cause you to invest time in your employees development instead of running on the hamster wheel.
Consider for a moment how this approach will play out after you have done it a few times. Imagine you are the employee who is used to coming to you to solve their problems. They have a new problem and they are walking toward your office. Just before they get to the door frame a thought hits them. “He is going to ask me how to solve this problem, and I haven’t got an answer. If I walk through the door again unprepared it won’t look good for me. I had better turn around and think this through.”
Okay I know what you are thinking, “Ron I get what you are saying but what if my employee can’t come up with a solution? What then?”
Yes at first this approach can be challenging. Employees who have not be challenged to think and solve their own problems do develop a subtle dependance on their leader. This can be a hard habit to break. Be patient, be persistent, the payoff is immense. There is a reason I suggested you experiment with one of your better employees, they are more resourceful and capable of thriving under this approach. If an employee can’t come up with an answer, there are other questions that will help.
- Where could you find information on how to solve this problem?
- Who could you talk to that could help?
- How have you approached solving other problems?
If after trying a few of these then ‘tell’ them the answer sure. While you are at it, set an expectation that they develop 2 or 3 possible solutions to any problem they bring you. Definitely come right back to the same strategy the next interaction. If this time they ‘got nothing’ in terms of solving the problem walk them through how you solve problems. Show them your logic and how you arrive at solutions and again set the expectation they follow a similar approach to future problems.
If you build this strategy into your employee interactions you will find that your employees in time will learn to solve their own problems and you will get back part of your day and perhaps get off of that Hamster wheel you run every day if only for a few minutes.