27 September 2023

Why it’s never right to do it all yourself

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John Eades* discusses the worst mistake a leader can make when a member of their team asks advice on solving a problem.

There are thousands of professionals all across the world who call themselves leaders.

In reality, the vast majority are leaders in title only.

While they have direct reports and authority over others because of seniority or prior performance, they aren’t actually leading; they’re managing.

One of the ways a leader separates themselves from being a manager is by coaching their people.

A coach, by definition, is one who trains and instructs. I define it as: “Coaching is improving the current and future performance of others to achieve higher levels of excellence.”

Leaders who coach others effectively have never been more necessary than they are today because behind every excellent professional is an excellent leader who acted as a coach.

As easy as this is to write, the application of it is complex.

Basketball coach, John Wooden said it well: “A coach is someone who can give correction without causing resentment.”

Managers have countless opportunities, from performance reviews to one-on-ones, to daily interactions, to give correction without causing resentment.

However, this is precisely where most managers make a significant mistake.

Mistakes are a part of life, coaching others included. The key to any mistake is not making it habitually without correcting it in the future.

One of the worst mistakes a coach can make is consistently telling others how to fix or solve the issues or challenges in front of them.

Perhaps one could make worse mistakes, like not coaching at all or demeaning someone to make them feel inadequate intentionally. Clearly, don’t do that.

Most people can avoid these egregious mistakes when coaching.

However, consistently telling the people you are coaching how to solve an issue or challenge is not only easy to do; it’s hard not to do.

The reason so many managers give advice and answers so quickly is typically one of two reasons: They don’t have time, or they know the answer.

When you are in a hurry and or you know the answer to a question, it’s far easier and more efficient to give the answer and move on.

Micromanagers take this a step further. Not only do they tell their team members the answer, but they do it for them because no one can complete a task as well as they can.

Delivering the answer to a question is quick and effective. However, it rarely does anything to encourage a person’s development.

Great leaders identify where team members have reached in their development and align their coaching appropriately.

The goal is simple: Help your people reach a stage of development that exceeds where they are today.

While there are different tactics, tools, and strategies you should engage in at each team member’s stage of development, there is one coaching tactic that is somewhat effective at all levels.

It’s centred on asking great questions. This allows you to pull the information out of your people instead of the other way around.

Author of The Coaching Habit, Michael Bungay Stanier once told me: “Leaders should stay curious a little bit longer and rush to advice-giving a little bit slower.”

By taking this approach, you force team members out of their comfort zone and encourage them to be more self-reflective.

Use open-ended questions, free of judgment. Here are some of my favourite examples to add to your arsenal:

What can I do to help you? What result are you trying to achieve? Can you walk me through your thought process and what you have tried up until this point?

What do you think we should do to create the best result for everyone? What other approaches might you take next time?

Regardless if you are guilty of consistently telling others how to fix or solve the issues or challenges in front of them or not, it’s never a bad time to be reminded to ensure you don’t make the mistake in the future.

As a mentor of mine taught me: “People need to be reminded more than they need to be taught.”

*John Eades is the Chief Executive of LearnLoft a leadership development company. He is also the host of the Follow My Lead podcast. He can be contacted at johneades.com.

This article first appeared at johneades.com.

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