“Give a man a fish, he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, he eats for a lifetime.” – Chinese proverb

One night, I was out with my kids, walking a dog we were looking after. We stopped to chat to a guy with another dog – just pleasant, idle chit chat, as the dogs happily greeted each other.  As we parted I said, “Have a great night.”

“Don’t tell me what to do,” he snarled, as he turned away.

It was an interesting moment: while I wanted to wish him well, he interpreted it as controlling or diminishing.

As humans, many of us have that voice in our head: we don’t want to be parented or told what to do – to feel our capability and intelligence disrespected.

The exchange brought me back to one of the leading tenets of leadership: being there to help people find their own answers and to see things for themselves.

In Chapter 12 of Your Oxygen Mask FirstStop Being Chief Problem Solver – I talk about how even the most effective leaders do themselves and their teams a disservice by answering questions, and solving problems, even though it’s faster.

Instead, they should say things like:

  • “Have you considered…”
  • “When I was in a situation like that, this is what happened…” or
  • “What do you think?”

And they’ll create the right discussions so that the team can define where they want to go and key strategies to get there. Then step back to let them do the rest of the thinking for themselves.

This approach expands your team’s capabilities. It also forces them to be stronger leaders and frees your time and energy to do the things that matter.

The Challenge

  • When are you parental in your approach by telling people what to do?
  • Go back and read Chapter 12 in the book.