We’ve all had the situation when an employee brings us a problem (like dozens of times a day, right?). Maybe they say to us “hey boss, that other department won’t answer my emails about getting the data and I can’t finish my report.”
Why do employees keep bringing us their problems? Occasionally it’s because they’ve tried everything else and they’re out of ideas. But most of the time, it’s because we’ve trained employees that we solve their problems (because we’ve done it so many times before).
The irony here is that when we ask managers for their biggest complaints about employees, we regularly hear “they’re too passive/reactive” or “they need to think for themselves” or “they don’t take enough initiative.”
So I’m going to give you 4 phrases that will show you how coaching employees, instead of managing, can train your employees to start solving many problems for themselves.
Whenever an employee brings us leaders a problem, especially one that we think we know how to solve, we have a decision to make: should we jump in and solve it ourselves (i.e. managing) OR should we help the employee discover a solution that may be different or better or worse than ours (i.e. coaching)?
Many leaders choose the managing option; both because leaders often have a ready solution, even if it’s not perfect, and most leaders are type-A personalities that like to jump in and fix things.
But when leaders choose the managing approach, they deprive their employees of the opportunity to grow (ironically guaranteeing that employees will keep pestering them for more ready-made solutions). And, leaders deprive themselves of the opportunity to see if their employees can actually generate a solution that’s even better than the leader’s ready-made solution.
Let’s imagine an employee comes into your office and says “hey boss, that other department won’t answer my emails about getting the data and I can’t finish my report.” Here’s some possible responses…
The MANAGER might say “dang it, well, let me call them directly and get them straightened out.” (I know that manager sounds a bit like a cowboy, but you get the point).
The COACH might instead say:
- Well, tell me about what steps you’ve taken so far?
- What are you thinking about doing next?
- How is that the same or different from what you’ve tried before?
- If Plan A didn’t work, what might be a good Plan B?
Notice how the coach uses lots of questions? That’s because the coach (like a great psychologist, by the way) is helping the employee analyze the situation and develop alternative strategies.
This has 3 benefits:
- The employee is developing and honing their critical thinking skills.
- The boss isn’t getting sucked into every little employee problem (what we often call ‘reverse delegation’).
- The employee is learning how to take initiative and be proactive.
I’m not saying that a leader can never jump in and solve problems. But I am saying that there’s a lot to be gained by trying a little coaching vs. managing. The next time an employee brings you a problem, before you immediately jump right in and solve it, ask some questions. It’s ultimately less work for the leader (woo hoo!) and your employees may surprise you with some great and original ideas.
Be sure to check out our upcoming webinar, called Do More Coaching and Less Managing. You’ll learn the latest techniques for really honing your coaching leadership style.