When one of your team members comes to you with a problem, you essentially have four choices:
You can simply answer it.
You can answer it with providing context and information as to why that is the answer.
You can ask probing questions so the team member “self-discovers” the answer.
Let the person think it through and figure it out for himself.
What’s the right answer? Come on, think about it. Which one would you pick?
My guess is that you choose to ask good, probing questions to prompt her figure it out. Seems like a good idea…but is it?
This is the essence of coaching a person who is feeling uncertain, yet, in your opinion, has the ability to perform the task.
But what if they DON’T have the ability, the knowledge, or the skills? Asking probing questions will just frustrate them.
Sometimes, your team simply needs you to tell them what to do. When is that, you might ask? Simple: When they don’t have the skills, capability, or the confidence to do the task. They have never done it before and are reluctant to proceed. It’s not that they don’t want to proceed and to be successful, but they are reluctant, unsure and simply don’t know the answer. In that case, #1 is a good idea, especially when time is a priority.
But if time is not a priority, you can guide the team using a combination of telling and explaining why things are important. This works best if they are eager to get started, but are still clueless on how to proceed. In this case, the second option would be more effective.
Is it ever ok to let the person “flounder” and figure it out for himself? Absolutely! If they have a track record of success, have the skills to do the task (even though they may have never done this specific task before) and are eager to take it on, why not give them the task and let them run with it? Of course, you want to explain the task and then be available if they need you. Otherwise, get out of the way!
Next time a team member (or your team) comes to you with a problem, think about your response. Do they have the skills and capabilities? Are they motivated or reluctant? Based on your assessment of their competence, choose the appropriate response!
KRISTIN ARNOLD, MBA, CPF, CSP is a high-stakes meeting facilitator and professional panel moderator. She’s been facilitating teams of executives and managers in making better decisions and achieving greater results for over 20 years. She is the author of the award-winning book, Boring to Bravo: Proven Presentation Techniques to Engage, Involve and Inspire Audiences to Action.
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