Well - What Do You Think?


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Recently I was listening to a podcast with Ali Webb, one of the founders of Dry Bar – and she was talking about how when she first brought on a team, she believed (wrongly) that since the buck stopped with her – that she was responsible for having all the answers all the time.

And then, she discovered the magic of ‘well, what do you think”.

You know, this is an affliction that hits almost all leaders, no matter if you lead a shift, a team, a division or a whole organization.  The feeling that since you’re the leader, you have to have all the answers, all the time.

But that’s not true – and it’s not healthy.  Not for you, not for the company, and definitely not for your team.  Here’s why.

First up, you don’t have all the answers.  You can’t possibly know everything, about everything.  Sure, you might have an opinion – but someone else, who could be closer to the situation, might have a stronger and more effective opinion or option.

When you jump in – like I sometimes have found myself doing – and just start taking up space and oxygen – well, there’s no room for anyone else’s feedback or ideas.

And, actually, you’re creating a culture that doesn’t value contribution from everyone.  It’s very org chart, and very 70s.

…actually, you’re creating a culture that doesn’t value contribution from everyone.  It’s very org chart, and very 70s.

You know that quote “you teach people how to treat you”?  Well there’s more to it – the full quote is actually “You teach people how to treat you by what you allow, what you stop, and what you reinforce.”

Nothing could be truer when it comes to leading a team.

When you’re always giving the answer (whether you actually have the answer or not) – well, you’re teaching your team to bypass thinking for themselves.

You’re allowing them to just lean on you.

And you reinforce a really bad habit – coming to you for the easy answer instead of independently solving it on their own, and just using you for confirmation, if needed.

Now, I’m not saying don’t offer proper training.  It’s critical that people get the tools and knowledge they need to be effective in their jobs.  Onboarding and ongoing training programs are just good business practice.

And I’m not saying don’t provide support.  Sometimes we all need to bounce things off one another.

But, if you provide both proper training and support, and you find you have one or several members of your team that consistently come to you asking for the answer – well, you are going to have to push that baby bird out of the nest.

The truth is, we can, unintentionally, encourage this type of behavior.  Because it’s really nice to feel like you’re the one who always has the answer.  And it’s also nice to know your team member is going to handle the situation exactly like you would – because you just told them exactly what to do.

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But, that’s all just feeding your ego, and not at all helpful for your team member.

If you keep doing that, they won’t ever grow, and you won’t get the time to concentrate on your other work.  After all, that’s why you hired them in the first place – to free up your time.  And, you won’t get the benefit of their expanded thinking or their fresh perspective – because they won’t have one, it’ll all be yours!

So how can we break this awful habit – well that’s where the magic of “well, what do you think” comes in.

When they ask you what to do, or what the answer is to a problem, ask them what they think.  What do they think should happen.  What do they think would be the next step.  What outcome do they think is the right one, given the circumstances.

And then, listen – actually listen, to what they have to say.  You’d be surprised, it just might color the answer you had in mind.

And truthfully – maybe you didn’t even have an answer in mind because…you just don’t know.  And that’s fine – and normal.  You can’t expect to be the great oracle, all knowing – because you aren’t.  And for the organization to be most effective, everyone has to grow their problem solving muscle.

So remember, the next time a member of your team comes to you, asking for the answer – start with “well, what do you think?”

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