Q: It's been pointed out to me that I'm too authoritarian as a manager; my way is to just tell them what to do and how to do it. I'm not sure I need to change, but if I wanted to, how would I do it?
A: You don't have to take an "all or nothing" approach, and adapting your style, while not easy, will likely lead to improved team performance.
The inner game
Focus your reflection on the benefits and costs of your current style, and also consider the implications of integrating more coaching skills. Set aside any defensiveness and become open to the possibilities that change may bring.
How do you feel when you are directive with team members? It may give you a sense of security that things will be done right and that you have control. This can be reassuring, particularly if you work in a chaotic or stressful environment. However, it causes its own stress — I bet you often find yourself checking in on days off. While it might feel safe to have an illusion of indispensability, it won't serve you well in the long run.
Think back about experiences with your own bosses. If you've had a boss who is an effective coach, you probably learned more, or learned more quickly, than from a boss who spelled out every detail of what to do. And most people have higher job satisfaction with coaching-style bosses because they're able to engage more of their own intelligence and creativity.
Just to finish making the case for change, think through the feedback you've received. If you haven't investigated it thoroughly, now's the time. Also look at turnover or other measures of employee satisfaction. Losing good people is another wake-up call.
The outer game
Aspects of your current style probably serve you well — it's just a matter of knowing when to use them. For example, if there is clearly a right way to do a task (an established process to follow, for example) then spell it out. However, once team members have experience with the process, they may have ideas on ways to improve the process. While it would be disruptive to have each person changing the process to suit his or her own style, channeling those insights into a process improvement project could be very valuable — and not likely to happen if you've closed the door via an authoritarian style.
Two skills will help you evolve your style: listening and asking good questions. Instead of jumping in with the solution, start asking your team members what they think they should do. Don't masquerade advice as a question ("Have you considered doing 'X'?"). Be truly open-ended: "What options have you considered?" "What are the advantages/disadvantages of that?"
This approach will feel challenging, because you're used to being the answer person. And it may take some time for your team to adjust, so be patient with the process. Let them know you're trying to change your style so that they aren't wondering what's going on.
The last word
Evolving your style will make you a more well-rounded manager and lead to a more successful team.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, leadership coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.