Resisting the temptation to give answers


Photo by walknboston

There are lessons you learn and that you need to be constantly reminded of. A few months ago, I wrote this:

The conventional wisdom that a manager needs to say to its employees how to do their work is already intertwined into people’s expectations. Just the same way people think that there is one best way to write a speech, give a presentation, use notes or get the audience attention, while there isn’t, people expect their manager to tell them how to do their work.

Today, in class, as a part of a workshop dealing with adaptive leadership, we read an article by Ronald A. Heifetz and Donald L. Laurie, which had this sentence in it:

We all – superiors and subordinates alike – have to change our expectations for dispensing and receiving definitive answers.

As someone who used to spend a lot of time teaching, I know how big the temptation is. Someone asks a question. You know the answer. Actually, you know three times what is needed to give the answer. And you are tempted to immediately give that answer. The problem is, if you want a good process of teaching, you should (in many cases) divert the question back to asker or to the entire class and create a process of self learning.

Management (or as many people call it, leadership, but I won’t go there in this post) is exactly the same. Your employee comes to you with a problem. He expects you to solve it for him, to tell him what to do. That is the conventional wisdom. But, that is exactly what you should not do in most cases. The famous creed: “don’t give a hungry man a fish, teach him how to fish” is on the spot but not implemented enough. We need to resist the temptation and try to give solution or  answers and move to letting people find their own ways. So they will be able to do the job when you are not there. Tell them what the desired outcome is and let them find the solution. Give them the support and help, but not the solution. Resist the temptation.

So, are you able to resist the temptation?