Q: I’ve gotten feedback that, as a manager, I’m not very good at helping people develop their own solutions. It’s hard — it’s really easy for me to see what they should do, and seems more efficient to just tell them. How can I start to shift my style?
A: Ask questions, then be quiet and listen.
The inner game
It’s a common situation: People who are good at what they do are promoted. However, they often do not receive much help in the transition between doing and helping others succeed. That’s the situation you’re in, and you should be proud of yourself for being willing to develop out of this rut.
Give yourself a break. Relax, take some deep breaths and let go of any anxiety over the situation. You’ll be able to learn the new skills you need, and being stressed about it will just hold you back.
There are a number of skills that go with having a more coach-style approach, including asking good questions and probing to help team members come up with their own solutions. You also need to be able to assess the risk of letting people make some mistakes. Assess your skills in these areas so you can plan your skill development.
Consider your current team culture. If you currently solve everyone’s problems, or even overrule their solutions with your own suggestions, you’ll all have some habits to break. Team members will need to relearn a certain amount of autonomy, and you’ll need to learn to back off — and to push them to identify solutions before they even come to you.
The outer game
This is a great opportunity to practice transparency as a leader. Let your team know what you’re up to and why. They won’t be confused and it can build a lot of engagement.
Put some time into skills development. If you need to learn to create dialogue instead of giving orders, develop a list of go-to questions you could use. There are plenty of ways to find good coaching questions, including some listed in the resources section above. One hint: avoid the word “why”; it shuts people down. Use “how” or “what” instead.
If you’re a talker, use the WAIT system: Why Am I Talking. It’s a chatty coach’s best friend and can help you remember to let your team members work things out for themselves.
Model your behavior on someone you admire, or get a mentor or coach for yourself. Watching someone else in action is a great way to learn these skills.
Being able to let others learn the hard way through trial and error can be very challenging. If this is tough for you, ask for support from your boss, especially in learning to assess risks realistically. There’s a big difference between a $500 risk and a $50,000 risk, and misjudging won’t serve you or your team member well.
Track your progress, and celebrate your successes. Give yourself feedback, and request it from your team. Find some small team or personal rewards to help build momentum.
The last word
Building your coaching skills will benefit you, your team, and your company as a whole.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.