How to Teach People to Think for Themselves

As a CEO or an executive, are you unintentionally doing other people’s jobs?

That could be a problem – for you and for them.

Even if your intentions are noble, when you do someone else’s job, you rob them of accountability, and insulate them from learning experiences and stretching their capabilities through the value of failure and the celebration of success.

Stop Being a Chief Problem Solver

I talk about this in chapter 12 of Your Oxygen Mask First. If you’re an answer dispenser, you’re doing their job, not yours. And then you wonder why the company might not be performing and scaling at the level that you hoped.

As an organizational discipline, you’ve got to learn how to teach people to think for themselves.

Here’s how:

  • Park your ego

Knowing all the answers is so self-validating. Of course, you have the answers – you’ve been doing the job for 20 years. But your job is it to create a strong, independent team – to make everyone on it more capable and independent – and to decrease the pressure on your shoulders.

  • Don’t play in someone else’s sandbox

Each role in the organization is contained within a sandbox of distinct responsibilities and accountabilities (KPIs and execution of priorities), owned by the person in that role.

As a manager, your job is to support your team to get their jobs done – not to be over-involved and do it for them.

Note: If you’re a supportive person, watch for people who take advantage of you by making their issues yours, especially when there’s risk involved for them. You don’t want to rip them off by not having an opportunity to stretch their capabilities.

  • Train people to use their brains, not yours

Many leaders we work with require their direct reports to always come with recommendations, never just problems and questions.

Train people to come to you with thoughts, recommendations and solutions if they have issues, and discuss it together.

Sometimes it feels easier to answer their questions, rather than teaching them how to figure it out for themselves, but you’ll continue to have to answer questions forever.

  • Ask compelling questions to help them to think more:
    • What do you recommend?
    • How can you solve this?
    • Who could help you to figure this out?
    • How can we prevent this situation, in the future?

Warning: When you start doing this, people may be confused. So, first let your team know that, going forward, you want them to think for themselves to increase their capability. Of course, you’ll still have to answer questions, sometimes, but you want them to think and come forward with recommendations.

By the way, A-Players usually don’t want you to answer questions for them. They just want to be in sync with you at key points. Let them get on with it and then review their progress.

Remember, your job as a leader is to grow the people around you.

If you answer all their questions and do their job, then who is doing yours?

The Challenge

  • Where are you likely getting involved in doing people’s jobs?
  • Who can you help to always come with recommendations?

Want to hear more? Listen to Episode 98 of The Growth Whisperers.

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