Coach Employee Problems Instead of Managing Them

Coach Employee Problems Instead of Managing Them

This article originally appeared on Forbes by Mark Murphy, Founder of Leadership IQ

We’ve all had the situation when an employee walks into our office with a problem they want us to solve (or dozens of problems they want solved). Maybe they walk into our office and say, “I need your help boss, that other division won’t respond to my emails about giving me the data I need to finish my report.” And then they stand there waiting for us to solve that problem.

Why do employees bring us their problems? Occasionally it’s because they’ve tried everything else and they’re out of ideas. And that’s completely legitimate. But much of the time, it’s because we’ve trained employees that we solve their problems for them. And that’s because we’ve solved their problems so many times before.

The irony here is that I regularly hear managers complain that their employees are “too passive” or “too reactive” or “they need to think for themselves” or “they don’t take enough initiative.”

So I’m going to give you four 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 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 “I need your help boss, that other division won’t respond to my emails about giving me the data I need to finish my report.” Here are some possible responses…

The manager might say:

  • Darn it, well, let me call them directly and get them straightened out.

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 doesn’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) is helping the employee analyze the situation and develop alternative strategies.

This coaching approach has three benefits:

  1. The employee is developing and honing their critical thinking skills.
  2. The boss isn’t getting sucked into every little employee problem (what we often call ‘reverse delegation’).
  3. 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 (hooray!) and your employees may surprise you with some great and original ideas.

Mark Murphy is the New York Times bestselling author of Hundred Percenters: Challenge Your Employees to Give It Their All, and They'll Give You Even More

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