How skilled are you at helping people become strong, independent leaders?

Are you bombarded by people asking questions, or have a long list of unresolved issues? Learn how to develop strong, independent leaders, and to free your time for your best work.

The funny thing about becoming a leader is that you usually get there because of lots of experience and capability. And when you’re in that position, it becomes very common for people to want to ask you questions and for your opinion. And our egos love it. “Hey Kevin, what do you think about this? What do you think about that? What do you think about this? What should I do? What’s your advice?” They are music to our ears. Those kinds of questions make us feel great and valued and important.

Unfortunately, as a leader, if you fall into the trap of actually answering them, you’re doing a bad job. Our job, as leaders, is to teach people to make their own decisions, to make themselves independent, not dependent; and to help them get stronger on their own without us. If we keep answering their questions, we’re keeping them from learning on their own and mastering things themselves.

There’s a proverb that you’ve probably heard a 1000 times in your life, “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” This is what we’re talking about with leadership: teaching people how to think for themselves, how to decide for themselves, how to take on responsibility for themselves.

Key point – Require your team to make 90% of the decisions, in their area, on their own.

When you stop being chief problem solver, train people to solve things on their own, sooner or later, they don’t need you. And either your ego will love that, or it’ll terrify you. Either way, just know this is what helps you to grow, and it’s extremely rewarding to watch others grow as well.

You need to work on this:

  • If you are bombarded, every day, with people asking your opinion, even though you might like it.
  • People ask you the same types of questions over and over again
  • You’re involved in many small to medium-sized decisions because your team won’t make a move without you
  • You have a long list of unresolved issues and open debates
  • You regularly get stuck handling other people’s problems
  • The hot potato gets passed to you, and for some reason you think you’re supposed to manage it versus handing it back.

One of the key techniques in this chapter is teaching people how to break through the “I don’t knows”. When someone comes to you with a challenge and you ask them, “Well, what do you think we should do in this case?” or, “How would you solve this on your own?”, the most common response is, “I don’t know.” Interesting, but I found that’s actually not the truth. What they’re really saying to you is, “I can’t come up with a good answer at the moment.”

Breaking Through The “I Don’t Knows”

So, here’s a technique called breaking through the I don’t knows that works really well:

Team member: “Hey, I’m not sure what to do here. What do you think?

YOU: “Well, what do you think you should do?”

Team member: “I don’t know.”

YOU: “Well, take a guess.”

Team member: “I don’t know.”

YOU: “Well, take a wild guess. What is something you could do?”

Team member: “I don’t know.”

YOU: “Well, what would you do if I wasn’t here to help you and you had to decide?”

 

By now, they should be coming up with something. Even if they don’t, your response would be, “Well, if your life depended on it, what would you do?” If they still don’t know, “Well, if your children’s lives depended on it, what would you do?”

And it’s starting to get a little bit silly, but you get the point. People almost always know. People are innately intelligent, they’re innately creative. Our job is to drag it out of them.

If you go through this sequence it just pushes back and forces them to think, and 95% of the time something great comes out of their mouth.

The truth is they do know. They’re either just having a problem accessing it, or they’re afraid to say.

Summary

Make people think for themselves, and they’ll actually get better at it. If you want to grow, your people have to grow. And unfortunately, often our people don’t grow because we’re not putting enough of the onus of the thinking on them.

You can stop being Chief Problem Solver quite easily, and train your people to make most of the decisions on their own. If you’re worried about them making bad decisions, get them to come to you with recommendations, and run that by you first. No matter what, if you’re continually answering trivial, low level questions, there’s no way you’re going to move ahead to a higher level and odds are, you’re holding your people back.